Last year, after a student approached me about starting a club for non-religious students, I suggested to her that we attend the SSA at Ohio State. I knew very little about the group and about starting such a club but knew this would be the place to learn. I also could not guess the potential impact that conference would have on me. Over the three-days, I was able to gain a better understanding of my student, and of her father who also attended, as we reflected together on what the club could do, how she could grow…and even just what to call it. (More on that in a later post…)
I was introduced to people who continue to feed me, teach me, and model for me what being a good human being can be. Gerardo Rivera from Puerto Rico and I still communicate. (—And congratulations to him for his award-winning SSA chapter, and leadership award! He was even kind enough to be a primary source for a student writing about Puerto Rico's recent hurricane.) Sean Omar Rivera, whom I see only on Facebook, is heading the San Antonio/Texas MOVE getting people registered to vote. Mandisa Thomas who leads the Black Non-Believers is a powerful, compassionate speaker and leader. Kristin Wintermute conducted a leader’s workshop that I loved and was where I met some like-minded fellows. Lucien Grieves, founder of the Satanic Temple, a group who (does not actually believe in Satan!) uses satire, humor, and discord to draw attention to separation of church and state issues, was not only entertaining, but enlightening! And the attorneys from the Freedom From Religion Foundation were supportive and informative.
This year was no different so far as my learning curve! My student, now graduated and no longer leading the club, and her dad, attended with me for the second time and gleaned more inspiration to live our lives as humanists, and curated more information to help us on our way. We admired Ryan Bell’s new leadership of the SSA. (Despite his taking the conference to LA—closer to USC where he is the Humanist Chaplain—we are sad to see it leave Columbus!) We enjoyed listening to Holocaust survivor, a founder of the National Organization for Women, and author, Sonia Fuentes; she even sent me a personal email last week! Keynote speaker Dr. Heather Berlin’s address on neuroscience and the psychology of belief was engaging. And Bart Campolo, the speaker I most came to see: former evangelical preacher, and Humanist Chaplain at the University of Cincinnati, invited me to his small humanist group’s potluck dinners. (Though, through my messaging on the Humanize Me Facebook page, his friend, Leah Helbling, already beat him to the invite…!)
These two events, divided into smaller workshops and sessions did for me what any conference should do: solidify old information, stretch me with new information, and provide me the chance to network with people. People. People who enjoy the world more through the lens we have in common. It was indulgent. Moving. I hope to always remember how those days felt and to use them to do good work in the future. I am hoping all the things I am learning and all the people I am meeting can help our burgeoning group here close to home.