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Forward Freethought winner — Stephanie Avitia 

Stephanie Avitia

By Stephanie Avitia 

In a Latino household, religion is shoved down your throat. It starts at such a young age when you are the most impressionable. They baptize you and make you go to Sunday school so you can receive communion. I was always skeptical because it never really made sense to me, especially since I was exposed to two religions simultaneously. 

I remember being in science class and learning facts about life itself. I was fascinated and I started to question everything I was told. 

However, I would keep it to myself because I did not want to be reprimanded by my family for being “sinful” for questioning “God.” Now, when I tell my family I’m an atheist, they look at me like I’m crazy, but at least they support me. 

I am a STEM girl; I have always believed in science, math and technology. I’m going to UC-Berkeley to major in bioengineering and minor in environmental studies because I am passionate about science. I was introduced to atheism by a friend when I was in seventh grade. It’s nice to see that my generation is becoming more aware, especially how in Ethnic Studies classes we’re taught about the origins of religion and how it was used to enslave our people. 

I come from East Oakland, a low-income community of color. East Oakland is facing so many important issues that need to be addressed and changed — from gun violence to gentrification, food apartheid to poor air quality, or the lack of investment in infrastructures to underfunded schools. The list goes on.

Two issues that I am passionate about addressing are two that I have experienced first-hand: food apartheid and underfunded schools in East Oakland. I have participated in many organizations addressing these specific issues. Two organizations stayed with me. One was called Youth Together and the other one called Oakland Leaf. 

Youth Together is a social justice organization that uses grassroots organizing to fight for educational equity. I was a lead student organizer. A big thing I did was help organize students during the Oakland teacher strike of 2019. In Oakland Leaf, we would fight for social and ecological justice through education and food cultivation. We would provide the community with healthy fresh fruits and vegetables. We even partnered with The Black Cultural Zone in helping open up the Akoma market. It’s one of the only farmers markets in East Oakland. This is a farmers market that highlights local black and brown farmers, restaurateurs, artists and small business owners, giving them the space to branch out to reach local consumers. 

Humanism might make a positive difference in creating social change by eliminating the root causes of why we need a social change in the first place — racism and discrimination. Currently, the system is set up so that heterosexual, able-bodied, white people succeed. It is set up to make anyone who doesn’t fit in that criteria fail. 

Stephanie, 18, attends University of California-Berkeley.