Quartet receives Catherine Fahringer Student Activist Awards of $2,500 each

Right to left: Therrin Wilson, Mercedes Hawkins, Adrienne Parkes & Zera Montemayor

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to announce that it has given $10,000 in scholarship grants in memory of Catherine Fahringer to four students chosen by Black Skeptics of Los Angeles.

The scholarship is part of the third annual First in the Family Humanist Scholarship program, to help students of color who are atheists and agnostics. An awards program by Black Skeptics of Los Angeles was held on Aug. 8.

“We’re very proud to be providing the Catherine Fahringer Memorial Scholarships of $2,500 to these four recipients,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Recipients are:

Mercedes Hawkins, 18, University of California at Merced. Mercedes writes:

“Too many religious people insist upon waiting for ‘God’ to make a change. They fail to realize that the change is in them and it is their duty to cultivate it outwardly. Once more people embrace humanism, we will freely celebrate our differences in beliefs and promote acceptance.”

Mercedes is currently enrolled in the pre-nursing major program at California State University East Bay, and plans to become a nurse practitioner and eventually a pharmacist. “I will use the skills I learn in college to promote health and wellness in my community, and especially the Black Community. While in school I plan to pursue a program that will allow me to work part time as possibly an X-ray technician or possibly a phlebotomist or CNA.”

Zera Montemayor, 18, University of North Texas. Zera writes:

“Religion is not the source for social change in the world. It is time the human race understood that words like atheist, agnostic and humanist are not truly as negative as the connotation they carry. We are not hateful, sinners, harlots or devil worshipers. We simply believe that each and every human is equal. Not one person deserves to be oppressed simply because they are from different walks of life. There are so many things I would love to see before my life is over. I would love to see to gay people get married and the public not make a big commotion about it. I would love to see transgender people not be harassed or called ‘she-man.’ I would love to see women wear whatever they please and not be marked by words like ‘slut’ or ‘whore.’ I would love seeing men taking ballet or a cooking class and not be marked with the misnomer ‘gay.’ Finally, I want to be able to tell people I am an atheist without it ruining friendships. I believe humanism is the answer.”

Zera was born in West Texas, “a place with a church on every block, in essence a horrible place for a young and lonely atheist to live in.” Sports and school kept her focused. She stayed in the top ten percent throughout her four years of high school, graduated number 62 in a class of 700, has always loved science and was in a high school science team. She is majoring in chemistry and chose the University of North Texas because they have one of the few accredited science programs in the state. She plans to attend medical college, with a goal of becoming a forensic pathologist.

Adrienne Parkes, 32, University of Pittsburgh. Adrienne writes: “One of the things that caused me to shy away from religion was the lack of acceptance of those who are different. Growing up, I felt like an oddball, one of the few biracial kids in a very white neighborhood. I had dabbled in church as a child . . . but I kept waiting to hear God answer me and it never happened. This made no sense to me, so I left and never looked back. In the years following I would learn that most churches weren’t accepting of gays and lesbians, which only affirmed my decision. Many people are using their religion to hurt the LGBTQ community. We see it in people like the Duggars, who are campaigning to stop trans individuals from using gender appropriate bathrooms. Or in the recent cases of businesses using ‘religious freedom’ to justify not serving gay patrons. I believe that being a humanist, and being passionate about equal rights and fostering a positive community will create a much needed social change.”

Adrienne grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, took two years of college at Community College of Allegheny County, and will be majoring in social work with a possible minor in Latin American Studies. She earned a certificate in American Sign Language and “would love to become a tri-lingual social worker and help a broader range of people.”

Therrin Wilson, 18, University of Tennessee. Therrine writes: “I will be the first male in my entire family to receive a college education and I am also the first to disclaim Christianity. I do not condemn religion because it has influenced people to attribute a positive impact on society hence the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. On the other hand, I admire humanism more because humanist act upon a worthy heart when doing positive things for the community.”

Therrin, from Memphis, grew up “in a neighborhood amid poverty and crime,” and was evicted with his family from their home when he was in the 4th grade, moving from house to house with relatives and friends.” He was always very focused on academia “because my intentions were to overcome adversity, go to college and become something great so that my kids will never have to witness what I’ve went through. My parents would always tell me that ‘God would take care of us’ but at a certain point, I’d noticed that believing in my own abilities rather than the imaginary hand of deities has made me a more efficient man. Hence, my proud conversion from Christianity to agnosticism.”

FFRF, a national association of 23,000 freethinking (atheist, agnostic) members, also hosts three student essay scholarships (including awards this year to college-bound seniors writing about the challenging of being nonbelieving students of color) and student activist awards.

Catherine Fahringer was a San Antonio firebrand feminist and freethinking activist who ran a long-lived FFRF chapter and served on FFRF’s executive board for many years. She was especially interested in nurturing the next generation of independent thinkers.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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