The reality of being secular on a HBCU campus

Young black adults have decided to abandon religion or lack a belief in God altogether. Picture of abandoned building. 
Photo Submitted by of Destinee McGhee.

As descendants of the Diaspora, a majority of young black adults were introduced to some sort of spirituality and often time’s religion from an early age. For black people, religion is something that represents faith, strength or humility. However, some young, black adults have decided to abandon religion or lack a belief in God altogether.

Architecture major, Aldernico Brioche, said he began identifying as Atheist around five years ago. After analyzing the world and human interactions of people who believed in God or had faith, he started questioning his own.

“I use to pray every night for years but realized it was not making a difference to my life,” Brioche said “When I did eventually stop going to church because I always felt uncomfortable being there, my faith just receded and receded until I just eventually pulled the plug.”

After leaving high school, Brioche became confident that religion was not for him. Brioche attributed years to being someone that prayed and went to church but never really feeling comfortable with church.

Brioche explained while he has had luck meeting like-minded or open-minded people who understand his stance on religion, he still encountered people who made him feel like the odd one out.

“When the conversation comes up that I’m atheist, people tend to see me as the odd one out, as if I’m using less critical thinking, or I make less sense in my reason for not believing,” Brioche said. “It comes down to me having to prove why I do not believe versus them proving their own beliefs.”

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, the percentage of Americans who identified as unreligious is 22.8 percent. Among those statistics, only 9 percent identified as black. 

Zakiya Akerele is a professor who teaches multiple courses around religion. She said she believes this current generation is more prone to question God than the previous generation who were maybe afraid. 

“Non-religion is picking up amongst African-Americans who have now been disheartened or there being enlightened about religion, and it no longer fits their belief system, their morals, their ideals about life,” Akerele said.

Akerele has encountered many students who do come into her class believing in a certain faith but then may feel different about it once the semester is over. However, some students do stick with their faith or religion throughout the whole the process.

For many black atheists, being open about being secular can come with it’s different set of challenges. They could have had experiences with shunned or seen as demonic for their stance.

Bio pre-med major at Fisk University Justin Miller said he converted from Christianity to Atheist when he was thirteen. Nights of restless sleep and the questions such as how did humans get here or what is the meaning of life for humanity were questions that never formed substantial answers from religion.

Miller expressed that having questions that were or could not be answered was one of the main reasons that led to him not believing.

“My grandparents disowned me for a while when they found out, my feelings were hurt but they eventually came around,” Miller said. “A lot of black women I would encounter would say they wouldn’t date a man who is not a man of a God,” Miller said.

Now in college, Miller has been around more people who are more open-minded than what he experienced in high school. He said many of his peers did not shun him for being Atheist because he was not rude or inconsiderate.

“I feel like a lot of people were cool with me being Atheist because I didn’t make it my personality,” Miller said. “If someone prayed I wouldn’t be disrespectful about it or at all.”

While there are some people like Brioche and Miller who may face some resistance from time to time for their lack of belief or faith in a higher power from peers, there are also resources. Groups like Black Nonbelievers and Secular Student Alliance connects atheists and allies to a friendly, informative community. 

As more young black adults begin to decide their own path when it comes to belief systems, more opportunities for open discussion will begin to take place.