In 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), spearheaded the First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative, which provides scholarships to undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. Nationally these young people are at greatest risk for being pushed out of school due to discriminatory discipline policies and criminalizing police practices (foster care youth of color have some of the highest juvenile incarceration rates among all youth groups). For example, in big city school systems like the Los Angeles Unified School District, spending for school police and paramilitary weapons far outstrips spending for restorative justice initiatives which have been proven to keep students in school. And in many South Los Angeles schools fewer than 20% of high school seniors go on to four year colleges and universities.
Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis. Listen to our 2013 & 2014 scholars talk about how FIFHS helped them in their freshman and sophomore years and please share this post with the secular community. Indiegogo link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/first-in-the-family-humanist-scholarship-fund–2/x/2451283
High dropout and push-out rates, mass incarceration, skyrocketing college fees, diminishing financial aid opportunities, lack of mentors, first in the family status: these barriers to college access are especially acute for undocumented, homeless, foster care and LGBTQ youth of color.
Black Skeptics Los Angeles proudly announces our 2014 First in the Family Humanist scholars and thanks all the generous donors* who made these awards possible. Scholarship awards will be given on August 16th at CFI Los Angeles. We extend special thanks to Atheists United and the Freedom from Religion Foundation who generously gave $1000 each.
Elizabeth Hernandez, CSU Monterey Bay (Gardena HS)
Elizabeth is a foster care youth and has been active in Gardena’s Gay/Straight Alliance, Students Against Destructive Decisions and the Cinco De Mayo committee which helps Mexican American women go to college.
“With a lack of education my classmates have low self-esteem…they target who they feel are the ‘weak’ students, including special needs students, homosexual students, even students of the same ethnicity…(So) Being a humanist is easy for me through supporting our GSA and being vice president of the SADS group to stop violence and create a safe environment for everyone on campus.”
Tiare Hill, El Camino College (Gardena HS)
Tiare is a foster care youth and a member of the Women’s Leadership Project and aspires to be a journalist.
“Through the things I have seen in my community there are numerous problems in our criminal justice system that must change. It is known to a lot of people that the police are racist against African Americans. I would like to become a television news anchor who reports on issues like these and government policy.”
Freedom From Religion Scholarship Award:
Kelvin Manjarrez, El Camino College (Gardena HS)
Kelvin has been a volunteer for Reading Partners Los Angeles and a translator in the 2014 primary election. He identifies as an atheist and aspires to be an English professor.
“I have always been passionate about our educational system. A wise man once said that: ‘Humanity’s greatest fear is the unknown’. This accounts for contrived religions of all sorts, a simple explanation to the unexplained…Citizens who are better educated can better distinguish between right and wrong. This, in turn, generates understanding and unity amongst different groups of people who would have otherwise segregated, fought and killed one another. It is of no coincidence that some of the brightest minds in history have been social activists as well as advocates for a better pedagogical system: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Neil Degrasse Tyson, just to name a few.”
Returning Scholars: Mini-scholarships for outstanding community service
Jamion Allen, El Camino College (Washington Prep HS)
“The Black Skeptics first in the family scholarship had a big effect on my first year of college coming from an inner city neighborhood in Los Angeles. I’m from a single parent home and by receiving this scholarship I was able to pay for books, scantrons and extra-curricular items and succeed in my first two semesters…I think there would be a great impact if more students could receive this scholarship.”
Hugo Cervantes, UC Riverside (King-Drew Med Magnet)
“My first year at UCR is finally over and I’m glad that I have still been in contact with you Ms. Hutchinson. You are extremely inspiring to me to be as dedicated to marginalized youth as I pursue my own dreams and hope to do the same as you one day. My first year was fantastic! I’m planning to remain an English major and double major in Art History. I’m ecstatic to say that I will be assisting Professor Jennifer Doyle in an art project with Noa Bustamante in the fall. Professor Doyle has offered me a volunteering position at “Human Resources, HRLA’ for the summer. So it’s exciting that this summer I will be able to gain some gallery/museum experience so for next year I can apply to the bigger museums in the city. I know I wouldn’t have been able to be exposed to these opportunities if I hadn’t attended UCR and that was made possible by the First in the Family scholarship.”
As if it were yesterday I remember every time I would visit my father I was faced with the daunting task of answering his questions. These questions didn’t pertain to my recent academic progress but rather my perceived sexual orientation; “you ain’t gay is you boy?” Knowing the emotional turmoil I would cause if I honestly answered his questions, I abided by the heterosexual rule of always answering no. In an effort to fuel the believability of my answer, I would go as far as showing him photos of women I had in my phone. I was and still am his only son. The hetero-normative society we live in says it is my job to carry on the family name, to spread my seed, to procreate, to get married to a woman and provide for a family. That same society is responsible for countless LGBTQ Teen deaths, who so desperately try to ‘fit in’.
As I grew older I found myself in similar situations that I faced during my childhood–the constant plaguing questions about my sexual orientation, the ridicule for playing tennis instead of football, reading instead of rapping, and engaging in extracurricular school activities instead of chasing after the plethora of single women gracing the halls of my high school.
Adult men are faced with a unique challenge when it comes to protecting the sacredness of their heterosexuality; it becomes intertwined with protecting their ‘masculinity’. We start battling with other men mentally, physically, and, believe it or not, emotionally. Who has the more attractive girl, whose biceps and dick is the biggest (contradiction?), which one of us is making the most money, and drives the fancier car. Our obligations to heterosexuality are loaded with living up to the expectations of similar systems of oppression; patriarchy, capitalism, and being adept on the latest homophobic slur. As men there are levels of heterosexuality that you must prove yourself worthy of reaching, not only to other men, but to women as well. The expectations are more stringent, and the consequences of being labeled the ‘punk bitch’ are even more detrimental to the wellbeing of one’s manhood.
Do we truly enjoy living with every microscopic detail of our lives being sampled and weighed accordingly on the scale of heterosexuality? Are there not enough oppressive expectations we ritually battle, as we progress through life? It is our duty as humans to not only challenge that which many of us have been indoctrinated to believe, but to take an uncharted individually invented journey into the free world of sexuality, gender, and sexual orientation. It is time we stop allowing toys, placement and type of jewelry, colors, social activities, and our desire to follow the oppressive rules of procreation and hetero-normativity control our lives. It is time women end this search for the mirage of a ‘real man’, and for women to stop being criticized for not being ‘lady like’. It is time for men to cease the perpetuation of the unwinnable masculine battle. Our masculinity is not determined by anyone else but us. There are no authentic guides, books, or maps to manhood. It captures us at the least expected moments, and is supposed to leave us vulnerable to the unexpected. We should be elated when certain expressions and behaviors are characterized as feminine; then and only then will we escape the egregious label of the savage beast.
While learning to accept my sexual orientation, there were moments where I distanced myself safely away from anything remotely feminine. In distance I felt that I was safe from the stigmatization and ridicule that effeminate men were plastered with; from their more masculine counterparts. In reality I was scared, lonely, and lost; to my surprise it was the very type of person I distanced myself from, who helped me come to terms with who I am. The vibrant and carefree nature of this person was who I wanted to be, not the imprisoned ‘masculine’ and perceived heterosexual person I was. We learn from each other and respect each other when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable around each other. Will we as a society open the window to let in that same vibrant and carefree air, or will we continue to suffocate ourselves and our children, with the stale air of obligatory and burdensome gender expectations of heterosexuality? Progression doesn’t come at the hands of passing a few laws, and learning to accept those which are unlike you. Progression comes when we cohesively begin to challenge the rules and expectations of society to which we have been obligated to follow.
Sean Smith is pursuing a B.A in Sociology and Spanish at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA