FFRF/Harburg Foundation awards $3,000 to students in the arts

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to announce the first Yip Harburg Youth Activist Award winners, who will each receive $1,000.

This scholarship is made possible by the generous Yip Harburg Lyric Foundation and FFRF member Ernie Harburg, the son of the famous lyricist of “Over the Rainbow.” FFRF is providing the scholarship funds, and the Secular Student Alliance has done the legwork and vetting.

Yip Harburg, known as “Broadway’s social conscience,” was a staunch progressive activist. An atheist, he conceived and wrote lyrics for book musicals with political and social themes, including the anti-war “Hooray for What!” feminist “Bloomer Girl,” “Finian’s Rainbow” with its racial equality theme, and more than 600 standards, including “Paper Moon” and “April in Paris,” as well as the iconic Depression-era song, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Harburg called himself a “rebel by birth.”

Each of the three winners is a college student with arts majors and a background in the arts. They elected not to identify their last names for privacy reasons.

Daniel, the first in his family to go to college, is majoring in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design and enjoys using his photos to tell stories and evoke feelings about race, sexuality and femininity. Daniel grew up with a religious Dominican mother, who credited God for everything they had. Daniel felt his mother was “discrediting all the hard work she’s done for our family and all the sacrifices she’s made.” Daniel has organized a photography fundraiser with other local photographers for the Black Lives Matter movement. While his photography centers around empowering women, Daniel also hopes to discuss humanistic and racial themes through his art.

Catherine is a theatre and music lighting design major at Rutgers University who hopes to work on Broadway and eventually become a teacher. She believes theatre and other storytelling art helps mold compassionate young minds. Catherine’s grandfather was a deacon and multiple great-aunts and uncles of hers are nuns and monks. Despite this, her parents raised her in a home devoid of religion. So when she was old enough, she chose on her own. “I am an atheist and proud of it,” she says. Catherine is an outspoken advocate for secularism and has participated in multiple women’s rights marches, Gay Pride Week, March for Science and Black Lives Matter protests. In high school, she was captain of the debate team, writing mock bills focused on race and gender.

Braxton is a Navajo native from Idaho who grew up in an LDS-Mormon family. Braxton felt the church and most members shunned his family because of their nontraditional background, family members’ addictions and their overall lifestyle. Braxton officially left the church because he disagreed with the church’s vocal stance against same-sex marriage, among other things. “I now identify as an atheist and strive to show people good comes from good people, not God,” Braxton says. Braxton saved enough money to attend Utah Valley University as an audio digital media major, but during his second semester was struck by a car, fracturing his skull and rendering him unconscious for three days. After three full weeks in the hospital, Braxton had to relearn how to balance, walk and speak. While his doctors suggested that he drop out of school, Braxton decided nothing was going to stop him from being the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. When he went back to school, he started the Chess, Audio and Card Games Club on campus and a volunteer and internship program between UVU and Primary Children’s Hospital. This year, he opened a concern/recording space for musicians and songwriters to combat Utah’s “censorship for the sake of censorship.”

FFRF is grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Yip Harburg Lyric Foundation and Secular Student Alliance to support young freethought. The Harburg Foundation and FFRF together published Yip Harburg’s Rhymes for the Irreverent, a compilation of Yip’s biting and witty light verse.

“We are so proud to be able to support young freethinking artists with these scholarships,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It is a wonderful way to carry on Yip’s legacy.”

The Secular Student Alliance empowers secular students to proudly express their identity, build welcoming communities, promote secular values and set a course for lifelong activism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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