Julian Bond, Civil Rights leader, advocate of LGBT equal rights, and Humanist, passed away this week. From his college days when his journey of activism began to his final days at age 75, he was a tireless hero bringing light to our world, creating hope, and inspiring us all.
He spoke at a diversity event in October of 2014 on the “Road To Freedom: Alabama to Obama”. He spoke not only of the current relevance of racial equality issues, but also of equality for all and his advocacy for the LGBT community. He conveyed the ethical urgency of treating all human beings like human beings. He steadfastly believed in the possibility of achieving that level of civic enlightenment. He believed in the possibility – after all he has seen and been through.
After his speech he took questions; one person asked about his religion. He answered simply that he was not a believer and never had been. A palpable shock wave of stunned silence pressed through the crowd, then faded unacknowledged as he moved on to answer the next question. While he had always been a leader to look up to, this was something about him i had not known. I truly cannot express how it felt to have a beloved national leader, whom i had always respected, reflect my non-belief – in front of my peers! Seeing ourselves reflected in those around us and among leadership is important – and is a great step toward building bridges across differences.
Often we hear encouragement for those of invisible diversities, such as LGBTQ+, religious minority, or non-faith individuals, to be open about who they are. Such bold genuineness can generate awareness that there are good people of these diversities all around us and that the potential for human goodness transcends divisive labels. If we can begin to see that some of the people we love fall in the set of those we have been trained to hate and fear, we might re-evaluate misguided judgment. And just maybe, start to fade the borders in our heart’s Venn diagram where we have divided “them” and “us”, and widen the intersection of “those we value”.
Being “out” as a non-religious individual is not easy – or safe – for everyone. But there are many more like-minded people than we realize. Some secular individuals simply choose to be aligned culturally or in ritual practice with a faith perspective because they value the community and life structure it provides, but either openly or secretly do not share the faith. Others “pass” or pretend in fear of potential marginalization, devaluing, inequality, mistreatment, and other consequences that can come from being associated with the most hated demographic in America: Secularism. The Clergy Project is a clear example of secular individuals whose complex, visibly faith-based journeys masked non-faith.
For our Orlando readers – one of the many UCF Office of Diversity and Inclusion workshops for students, faculty, and staff is Secular and Religious Minority Awareness (SRMA). Similar to the content above, the workshop discussion and activities focus on exploring the experiences of those potentially impacted by faith-related inequities and generating respect for people of all faith and non-faith perspectives.
I remember a poignant missed opportunity to say hello to Julian Bond in the ballroom after his speech. But later i happened to see him leaving from the building – and oh-yes-i-DID – ran after him through the parking lot like a teenager wanting to meet a rock star after a concert. Worth looking silly: I had the honor of shaking his hand and thanking him for all that he has done to uplift humanity. I didn’t specifically thank him for being forthright about his non-belief, but surely he knew the impact of his words. He was an empathetic leader in touch with those marginalized and in need of a voice. Millions of Americans need people like him to demonstrate and normalize Humanist goodness. I am grateful for his courage, tireless confidence in humanity, and immeasurable positive impact.
In the words of Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees: “With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice. He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all.”
Julian Bond dedicated his life to historical national impact that influences millions to uplift others. Many of us, however, are simply serving in some small way to make a difference in our community, our family, or even for an individual. Regardless of the scope of your impact, you matter. To each of you – thank you for all that you do to make the world a better place. When you bring hope, inspiration, and happiness to others, it matters in ways you will never even know.
Founder and Organizer, BE. Orlando
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” ~ William James
We’re halfway there. ~ Zeno
- Julian Bond Obituary, Associated Press
- Julian Bond Article, New York Times
- Julian Bond Article, National Public Radio (NPR)
- AAH list of Historic Black Humanists
- The Clergy Project
- Secular and Religious Minority Awareness Workshop (UCF)
- Central Florida Secular Resources, Allies and Community Groups