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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Forward Freethought scholarship winners 2023

Amir Asadi
Nevaeh Brown
Janaye Silva

FFRF has awarded $25,000 in First in the Family Humanist Forward Freethought scholarships to seven students, thanks to the generosity of FFRF benefactor Lance Bredvold. The students were selected by Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), an African American humanist-atheist-based organization.

BSLA is the first secular humanist atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color through its ongoing scholarship, college and K-12 youth leadership partnerships. FFRF has proudly partnered with BSLA for 10 years to provide tuition grants, gradually increasing the funding and number of scholarships. The BSLA review committee is Imani Moses, Darrin Johnson, Deana Williams and Sikivu Hutchinson.

The following are the 2023 First in the Family Forward Freethought scholarship winners. (The first five are this year’s first-year college student awardees and the last two are multiyear winners.)

• Amir Asadi, University of California-    

Santa Cruz, $5,000.

• Nevaeh Brown, University of Illinois, $5,000.

• Nathan Concepcion, Texas A&M, $5,000.

• Janaye Silva, Emerson College, $5,000.

• Kaylin Nelson, University of Central Florida, $2,500.

• Belen Padilla, Scripps College, $2,500.

Here are excerpts of the essays from the five first-year awardees.

By Amir Asadi

I identify as a humanist because humanity alone has the power to create social change.

As a queer person who was raised Muslim, I am passionate about eliminating homo/transphobia in religious communities and protecting marginalized queer people of color around the world. As a Black person, I have seen the ways institutionalized religion has torn apart our community. I have seen the Black community regurgitate the same rhetoric used to enslave us under the guise of religion. As an American, I am passionate about protecting my physical and medical autonomy. From gender transition to reproductive health care, no religious organization should have the power to tell me what decisions I can make with my body.

Secular humanism can make a positive difference in creating social change by rejecting the structural power many religious institutions have in our government. There are no logical arguments against issues like LGBTQ rights or the right to abortion that do not use a religious text as a source. Secular humanism also gives humanity agency over our decisions and our world. By believing that all our choices are our own, that gives us the power to choose to improve the world around us. I have participated in pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ, and anti-racist praxis within my community.

Science is the greatest asset of the secular humanist cause. In the search for an objective truth, you must forfeit your biases. I am a humanist because I have hope. I have hope that radical change is possible. I have hope that the issues that plague our society have solutions. I have hope that my actions can make the world a better place.

By Nevaeh Brown

As a young Black person who identifies as pansexual, non-binary and lives with autism, my journey of self-discovery has been one filled with questions, uncertainty, and an unwavering commitment to open-mindedness. This is why I proudly identify as agnostic, as it allows me to navigate the complexities of existence without subscribing to any specific religious doctrine or dogma.

Living in the body of someone perceived to be a Black woman has shaped my perspective in profound ways. It has made me acutely aware of the societal expectations and stereotypes that accompany such an identity. From the assumption that I am strong and resilient to the fetishization of my Blackness, my experiences have revealed the urgent need for inclusivity, understanding and equality.

My journey has also taught me the importance of embracing my own unique identity.

Identifying as agnostic allows me to explore and question the nature of spirituality and existence without subscribing to rigid beliefs. It provides me with the freedom to critically analyze various religious and philosophical perspectives, while remaining open to the possibility of something beyond our current understanding. By acknowledging the limitations of human knowledge, agnosticism fosters humility, curiosity, and an appreciation for the vastness of the universe.

While agnosticism forms the foundation of my worldview, secular humanism is the guiding light that shapes my values and passions. As a philosophy centered around the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, secular humanism has the power to create positive social change.

Furthermore, as someone with autism, I advocate for the rights and inclusion of individuals with neurodivergent conditions. I aim to challenge the stigmas and misconceptions surrounding autism, promoting a society that values neurodiversity and provides equal opportunities for all.

By Nathan Concepcion

I identify as nonreligious/secular because I believe in the principles of humanism, which prioritize the equitable treatment of every human being regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, class or disability status. Humanism, to me, represents a moral framework that is based on reason, empathy and the inherent worth and dignity of all individuals. By embracing secular humanism, I reject the notion that social change should be driven by divine authority or supernatural beliefs. Instead, I recognize that it is human beings themselves who hold the power and responsibility to create a more just and inclusive society.

One humanist issue that I am deeply passionate about addressing in my community is social and economic inequality. I firmly believe that every individual should have equal opportunities to thrive and succeed, regardless of their background or circumstances. In my community, I have actively engaged in initiatives that aim to address this issue. For example, I have volunteered at local organizations that provide resources and support to marginalized communities, such as food banks and homeless shelters. By offering assistance and advocating for policies that promote social and economic justice, I strive to create a more equitable society where everyone can access the resources they need to lead fulfilling lives.

Furthermore, I have been involved in environmental conservation efforts in my community, which align with the humanist values of preserving and protecting the natural world. I have participated in local clean-up activities, tree planting initiatives, and educational programs that raise awareness about the importance of sustainable living. By taking action to protect our environment, we not only contribute to the well-being of current and future generations but also recognize our responsibility as stewards of the planet.

By Janaye Silva

I am a major advocate for self-love and care. I believe you are responsible for your own happiness, and while others can help with your general mood, you are the person in the end who decides how you want to look at things.

The idea of there being a higher power controlling what happens in my life directly conflicts with my belief that I am in charge of my own thoughts, feelings and perceptions. As a member of the LGBTQ-plus community and a Black woman, I have been hit hard with racism and homophobia. I want to shed light on those issues, and I believe secular humanism will help with that. With secular humanism, people will see that they are the ones that can help face their problems and they won’t need to wait around for a god to fix everything.

My family is heavily religious and by default, I also used to be. I prayed every night and went to church. I put my faith in Jesus and I waited for him to save me from the bad things in life. I was kind to everyone, prayed, went to church and I didn’t curse or bad mouth anyone. Despite this, I still faced a lot of racism. When I came out as pansexual, I was faced with homophobia as well, even from my own family. They used God against me, saying my sexuality was a sin. It was from then my beliefs changed. Why would I believe in something that didn’t agree with who I was? As soon as I let go of religion, I felt happier. It was then I realized that I was in charge of my happiness. I want other people to have the same realization that I did.