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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Tenth place (tie) — Persons of color essay contest: Kimberly Perez

Knowledge is power

FFRF awarded Kimberly $300.

By Kimberly Perez


Kimberly Perez

s an immigrant and a first-generation college student, attaining higher education has been an uphill battle. But as I approach graduation, I realize religion was the most influential barrier to my college experience. My parents have been Jehovah’s Witnesses for as long as I can remember. I was raised in the faith. The difference between an ordinary person and a Witness is that Witness lives are micromanaged by a religious hierarchy, eight men known as the Governing Body. My religion restricted me from things most consider inoffensive and/or joyous (e.g., celebrating birthdays). Although I was never thrilled by these limitations, I complied because I thought it was God’s will.

However, there was one rule that even my parents couldn’t support. Jehovah’s Witnesses vehemently discourage higher education. One Governing Body member said, “The better the university, the greater the danger. The most intelligent and eloquent professors will be trying to reshape the thinking of your child.” But my parents just couldn’t deny me higher education, an opportunity they didn’t have, and worked so hard to give me. Once I enrolled, my father was stripped of his “privileges.” He was no longer seen as a Christian man suitable for congregational responsibility due to his parenting choices. I discovered that the organization is afraid of young people objectively evaluating their beliefs in a freethinking environment.

College gradually gave me the tools to critique my faith. It started with being surrounded by diversity, followed by learning about evolution, world power structures, human rights theory, ethics and postcolonial theory. Then, as the gears in my autonomous mind were finally turning, I was sexually assaulted during my junior year. Only survivors can tell you what this trauma does to your faith in God. It was time to see if I truly “believed.” I tried tirelessly to acquire strength through bible study, but my faith simply didn’t hold up against my new knowledge and perspectives.

At this point, I had to commit the worst offense: turn to “apostate literature,” information that contradicts Witness teachings. I learned that many people lose their ability to think rationally when they’re depressed, lonely or otherwise vulnerable. They are the individuals most likely to become Witnesses, because religion provides a strong sense of purpose and community during vulnerability. I realized that this was my parents’ situation. Having just immigrated to the United States, they had no friends or stability. As a person of color, I know that many struggles come with my skin tone. The secular community can better engage us by, first, recognizing that religions are manipulating us by appealing to such emotional hardships.

Thus, I finally found information that backed the uneasiness I felt surrounding my faith, information that helped me get through my assault aftermath. Higher education gave me the courage to trust my intuition and formulate my own arguments. Today, I continue to explore ideas on how I should live my life, without religion’s constraint. Knowledge is power and being free from religion has empowered me for a lifetime.

Kimberly, 21, is from Allentown, Pa., and attends Duke University, where she is majoring in international comparative studies. She is a first-generation college student who immigrated from the Dominican Republic. She is currently doing research on maternal health, and wants to work in the public health field upon graduation in May.