Honorable mention: Staying strong in a world of believers by Taressa Straughter

Staying strong in a world of believers

FFRF awarded Taressa $200.

By Taressa Straughter

“What? You’re an atheist? Why?” Those are the questions that I always hear when I tell people that I am an atheist. I honestly don’t think that it’s a big deal, I just don’t believe in God. Ever since I was a little girl in church, I always questioned the existence of God. It just didn’t make sense to me. Why worship someone that I can’t see? My life as an atheist has not been easy, but it’s even harder when you’re a black teenage atheist. Yes, I know that’s very rare, but I assure you that we do exist. Growing up in a predominately black community, it is considered an abomination if you say that you’re an atheist. Where I grew up, you always went to church on Sunday and worshipped the Lord. You were told to fear God and you would enter heaven when you died. Being a black female atheist comes with a lot of challenges, but I always stayed true to what I believed in: science.

I grew up with my Pentecostal mother and grandmother. My six siblings and I went to church on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and twice on Sundays. They were true holy rollers, and if we even asked to stay home, we were punished. I would be bored out of my mind in church. The preacher would talk for hours about the same thing, and I always thought he was a moron. For years, I just stayed in church and tolerated it. I knew that I was a nonbeliever; science just made more sense to me. When I was in the eighth grade, I told my mom that I was an atheist. “All nonbelievers will burn in hell,” she said in anger. I was shocked and cried that entire day. I felt as though it was me against the world. However, the fun really began when I entered high school. I went to a historically black high school, and that meant at every event there was a prayer. That meant at every award ceremony, the students would thank God for the “blessings” they received. I was really uncomfortable when people would pray over their food at my school’s alumni banquet, or when random old women would scream “praise God” out of the blue. But the absolute worst part was the questions that people would ask me, and then they would question my atheist beliefs. “Why don’t you believe in God?” “Where do you think you would go when you die?” I think it would be more logical to interrogate them about their God. They are worshipping a being that they can’t see, feel or hear. I always tell them that I am a believer of science and that it has more evidence than that dreadful book of a bible.

Even though I’ve been the recipient of many angry expressions, I am proud of who I am. I am proud to be black, to be a woman, and to be an atheist. I think that everyone is entitled to believe what they want to believe, or even to not believe at all. I want freethinkers in my community to be proud of who they are and not have to live in the shadows. You can’t really change what someone already believes in, but you change their perspectives of how they see people from other religions. All of that can happen with education and information. Freethought can be more attractive to nonwhite communities by informing them about freethought and debunking stereotypes about freethinkers. Ignorance can overpower by knowledge, and that can bring diversity to the freethought movement. I hope that people will be more understanding and accepting of my atheist views.

Taressa Straughter, 18, is from Miami, Fla. She attended Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Miami and is attending Purdue University. She plans to be on the pre-med track and to attend medical school at Johns Hopkins University and her dream career is to become a neurosurgeon.

Freedom From Religion Foundation