Episode 56: What’s New at the AHA with Nicole Carr
We talk to the interim executive director of the American Humanist Association, Nicole Carr, about her journey to Humanism, why social justice is important (it’s about church and state), and what goes into awarding the Humanist of the Year honor.
01:55 Intro/Journey To Humanism
09:44 Social Justice Is About Church And State Issues
16:18 Deciding How To Award The Humanist Of The Year
21:19 The 82nd AHA Conference
Nicole Carr is the Interim Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, Editor of the Humanist magazine, and Senior Editor of TheHumanist.com. Prior to joining the staff at the AHA, she worked in development and communications for arts and education non-profit organizations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. Carr received a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA in English and Feminist Literature from the University of Virginia.
Read full transcript here
[0:00] This is Glass City Humanist, a show about humanism, humanist values, by a humanist. Here is your host, Douglas Berger. We talk to the Interim Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, Nicole Carr, about her journey to humanism, why social justice is important, it’s about church and, state, and what goes into awarding the Humanist of the Year honor. Glass City Humanist is an outreach project of the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, building community through compassion and reason for a better tomorrow.
[0:45] Welcome to another edition of the Glass City Humanist. I am Doug Berger, the host. I just wanted to step in here before we get started with the interview with Nicole Carr to let you know that I goofed. This interview was recorded back in April, before the AHA conference took place, over the weekend of May 5th through the 7th, and the interview was originally supposed to be published before the conference. I apologize to the American Humanist Association and to Nicole Carr for goofing.
[1:22] There’s still some valuable information in this episode, and I hope that the people that listen to it and are humanists knew about the conference and tried to attend. I know they’ll probably put up some videos later on the YouTube channel so you can watch them. And again, I apologize. I goofed. I took a week off I shouldn’t have taken, and I got behind. So anyway, here’s the interview with Nicole Carr. Our guest today is Nicole Carr. She is the Interim Executive Director of the American Humanist Association.
[1:57] She is also the editor of The Humanist Magazine and senior editor of the website thehumanist.com. Prior to joining the staff at the AHA, she worked in development and communications for arts and education non-profit organizations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. She has a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s in English and Feminist Literature from the University of Virginia. Thank you for joining us today, Nicole. Thank you for having me. So how long have you been with the AHA? I have been here for, it’ll be six years in June. I came on as the Director of Development, and then I was the Deputy Director, and I’m currently the Interim Executive Director. Yeah, and I do want to mention that we are between Executive Directors. So that’s why you are the interim right now. Yes.
[2:53] Now, the American Humanist Association, which my group, the Secular Humanists of Western Lake Erie, is a chapter of, was founded in 1941. Can you tell us a little bit about what the mission is and what the American Humanist Association does? Absolutely. So, we’re a progressive organization whose mission is to promote the rights of humanists, atheists, and free thinkers. Primarily, our mission focuses on issues of separation of church and state, and also social justice. And we also promote awareness of the existence of humanists and atheists and other non-theists in the United States.
[3:44] And also, I believe it’s a division of the AHA is the one that certifies humanist celebrants. Yes. The Humanist Society is an AHA affiliate. They are an independent 501c3 with their own board, but they are affiliated with us and under our umbrella, and they do certify humanist celebrants who do things like perform important life ceremonies, for non-secular people like weddings and funerals and baby namings and other important life events. And we also endorse humanist chaplains who work in universities around the country and hospitals and prisons and perform counseling duties and things like that, sort of humanism in everyday life.
[4:47] And one of the things, you know, that AHA does is it runs on a chapter model. You have chapters all across the country, but a lot of the national groups have kind of moved away from chapters. I know American Atheists, they did away with theirs years ago, and Secular Coalition for America kind of moved away from it and even Americans United recently, kind of moved away from that as well, is, can you tell us the benefits of having chapters and what kind of things we need to look out for in the future about that? Certainly. We have both chapters and affiliates, sort of two different relationships with the organization. Affiliates are a little looser, but still closely bound to us, closely connected to us, I should say. The AHA has both chapters and individual members. So I like to think of it as having sort of the best of both worlds. Our chapters help us to build opportunities for community.
[5:58] For people who are interested in gathering on a local level. One of the things that can be difficult, especially for people who have a religious background and grew up with the sort of sense of congregation and the community that comes from church, it can be hard to move away from that and to not to have that anymore. So one of the benefits of chapters is that they can help provide that sense of community that people might otherwise be missing. And that sharing of ideas. It’s also a great way to organize. And that’s what the AHA would certainly like to further.
[6:49] And in the coming years would like to support chapters to do more of, to actually be active in their local communities on the issues that are important to us. You know, like abortion rights and LGBTQ rights.
[7:08] And racial equity, economic justice, climate justice. Those are, and you know, fighting white Christian nationalism is a very important issue. And we’ve seen it in Tennessee in the last…
[7:24] A few weeks with the Tennessee three who were, two of whom were kicked out of the state house, how important it is to act to organize on a state and local level on the issues that are important to us because the forces that we are sort of working against are, or I should say trying to to protect our democracy from are certainly organized. So our chapters provide us one way to organize humanists, to be active and along with providing that sense of community on a more personal level. And we think that the most successful of our chapters have both the sort of social component, things like book clubs, dinner gatherings, networking, happy hours, lecture series, things like that, and the organizing activism side. And we also encourage chapters to be active in service projects. For instance, some of our chapters do things like run food banks or collect materials collect materials for unhoused populations, work in prisons, things like that, so.
[8:53] Yeah, and as a leader of a group that has done quite a bit of that, yes, that’s very important. And I always mention to people that, you know, when you join my group or join a chapter of the AHA, you don’t have to be an activist. If you just want the social aspects, you can do the social aspects. If you want to be an activist, you can do that. You know, it’s always about trying to give people an opportunity to do what they like to do. Right, options. Options are important. Now, you mentioned quite a few of the different areas that the AHA is interested in, it comes under the umbrella of social justice. And I think one of the things that I really liked about the AHA from when I started back in the 90s is it’s really moved into the social justice areas.
[9:44] How would you respond to somebody, an old fuddy-duddy who’s been with the AHA since the 50s or 60s who complains that maybe we’re doing too much or we shouldn’t be doing that. What would you tell somebody why it’s important for the AHA to be involved in social justice issues? So I think there are two reasons. The first and I guess the most straightforward is that.
[10:10] A lot of these issues are just flat-out separation of church and state issues. So things like abortion rights and LGBTQ rights, those are separation of church and state issues. Those are keeping religion out of, you know, laws, making laws that affect how we live our everyday lives. And nobody argues that separation of church and state is a social justice issue. But I think that the other reason that social justice is absolutely a part of humanism is that, you know, there’s the sort of definition, the official definition of humanism, right? Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that without theism or supernatural beliefs affirms our ability to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good. That ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good, to me, absolutely has to include social justice issues. If the point of humanism, or one of the points of humanism, is that.
[11:21] This is the only life we have and the only world we have and that it is our responsibility to to do what we can to make it the best possible life for ourselves and for each other, then that has to include social justice and equity issues. There’s just, I just don’t see, see any other option. So when people say we should stay away from social justice issues and focus on separation of church and state, I just don’t agree that social justice isn’t part of our mission. I think it’s always been part of our mission. Oh, I wholeheartedly agree. And that’s how I steer our group to take care of those issues too, because I see it. I see the connection. And people, some people don’t. They just, it’s like separated. Well, that’s what this is.
[12:23] Kind of taking a page out of the comic books, everybody has an origin story. And so how did you, what is your origin story? How did you come to humanism? Yeah, so I grew up in a religious family. We went to church every Sunday. I was Lutheran, I was the liberal branch of Lutheran.
[12:52] Where we, and I did not have a bad experience in the church, I should say, like many people do. My church was a very liberal church for its time. The stories in the Bible were seen as metaphors that could in the best circumstances help us learn the best ways to live.
[13:19] And I went to church every Sunday until I graduated from high school. And then like many people in college, partly because I had better things to do on Sunday morning, like sleep in, I just sort of drifted away and stopped attending church on a regular basis. And then over the years, the more I thought about things and lived in the world, it just, the religion that I grew up with stopped making sense to me. And the idea that there was this omnipresent, omnipotent force that, you know, could make things better in the world and chose not to was just was not an idea that made sense to me anymore. So just over a period of a long time, I drifted away and… Suddenly, at some point, I realized that I was an atheist. I will say that I was not familiar with the term humanism.
[14:31] And it was not, sadly, until I was looking for a development, a fundraising position, and found the job posting for a development director here at the AHA that I looked into it and said, hey, wait, that’s me. And I didn’t even know this existed. And I’ve since found out that that’s a relatively common.
[15:01] Path to humanism. Oh, yeah. It’s my path too. All right. Yeah. Not until somebody outside introduces you to the concept that you say, hey, wait, that’s me. And was there a specific or particular part of humanism that really, really affected you or drew you in? I do think that, yeah, it’s the idea that we owe something to one another because we’re all here and we want to make the world, and we have a responsibility to make the world a better place. It’s the sort of good in our slogan, good without a God. And I, you know, this is, I don’t know who said this first, but it rings true for me that if I tell you I’m an atheist, that tells you what I don’t believe in. When I say I’m a humanist, that tells you what I do believe in. And what I believe in is that humans have a responsibility It should be good to want to. For more information about the topics in this episode, including links used, please visit the episode page at GlassCityHumanist.show.
[16:18] One of the things that the AHA does is it bestows a Humanist of the Year honor on individuals who have mainly, they’re not necessarily humanists. I mean, they’re not members of the AHA, but they’ve done things that we can agree that are humanistic, and if they wanted to be members, they could be members, right? I mean, that’s pretty much it. Right. We give a variety of awards. The Humanist of the Year Award.
[16:48] Is the only award that requires that people are humanists, which I hasten to add does not mean they’re members of the AHA. It means they’re humanists in the big sense. The other awards, things like the LGBTQ Humanist Award, the Humanist Media Award, there’s a whole list of awards we’ve given over the years. Even the Isaac Asimov Science Award does not require that they be a humanist, just that their work advances humanist values. Now, the reason why I bring it up is is because one of the big kerfluffles in recent history was that the AHA board voted to rescind the Humanist of the Year from a certain individual who’s a biologist and talks on Twitter quite a lot. And and you guys got a lot of blowback about that, you know, you got a lot of complaints about that and so one day I, Went through I went through the list because there’s a list on the website of everybody that’s been given that award And there’s several people that probably today we they wouldn’t have gotten it. That’s true Yeah, right, and I know I know that was a hard decision but I mean, I agreed with it at the time that this person, yeah, we don’t need to do that.
[18:15] Is there ever a chance that maybe you go back and revisit some of those previous ones as well, or does it have to be something happens that really shows them in a bad light? Yeah, I think, so I hasten to add that that is a, this would be a board decision and not my decision, So I don’t want to speak for the board entirely on what they would or would not do.
[18:44] We haven’t made specific rules about that. So at the moment, it’s certainly a case-by-case basis. I would say that there are people who are on our list of past awardees going back decades, who we would, who we no longer sort of celebrate. And, you know, we don’t, we don’t, we may not, you know, if you see a list of awardees on our letterhead, you might not see their names there anymore. That doesn’t mean we’ve rescinded their award, but it means that there, we have concerns. And, but I think if to, to have an award hold, hold, the recipient would have to, do something affirmative now that we can’t stand behind.
[19:46] And that doesn’t mean disagree with us because plenty of people disagree with us, but it means, you know, the one that was pulled for instance was an accumulation of statements on various issues that are important to us, including transgender rights and the rights of women, and other issues that we just couldn’t stand behind anymore.
[20:16] Yeah, and I will point out that he is still continuing to make those kinds of comments. Yes, he has, very recently. Right, so it’s like, yeah, there’s not anything. He’s doubling down on a lot of that stuff and it’s disappointing. Yeah, I mean, whenever you see somebody that you hold up to a high standard, and they act that way that you’re, it’s mind boggling. And it just really disappoints you. It really does. Absolutely. And so I was doing an interview the other day with a couple of women who wrote a book about sexual harassment that they experienced. And one of the women was talking about, you know, there, there’s some people, some celebrities that she can’t watch their movies or listen to their music because they’ve been credibly accused or convicted of, sexual harassment, and she said it hurts. And I think that for a lot of people, I think a lot of that lashing out about it was that it hurt people, that they were just disappointed that one of their heroes is a terrible person, a terrible human being.
[21:19] Yeah. All right, on to happier things. Wonderful.
[21:24] Coming up at the beginning of May, May 5th through the 7th, AHA is hosting your 82nd annual conference in Denver, Colorado. We are. What can a participant at this conference, what can they expect to find if they go there? I hope many wonderful things. We have a variety of sessions by speakers and panels. We will be, you’ll be hearing, our opening panel, in fact, is about human, of course, I can’t remember the exact title now, but it’s about humanism in the world and the importance of social justice and why social justice issues are humanist issues, going back to something we talked about before. We, Tiff Ho from, GoHumanity and a panel of local leaders that include Evan Clark from Atheist United in California and Devin Graham from Humanists of Tallahassee and Aidan Barnes from WASH, which is.
[22:43] Washington DC and Virginia and Maryland groups. We’ll be talking about secular service. Our conference takes place during the secular week of action. We have a speaker on the dehumanization of the black male form. Stephanie Svahn is going to talk about how science might be racist, can be racist, and how that tendency can be, how we can work against that tendency. We have panels on programs for, humanist programs for families, how to grow and sustain your humanist organization. We have a panel, Jay Hooper, who is helping to organize the conference, I should say, we’ll be doing a panel with Stephen Emmerich, the new executive director of the Secular Coalition for America on living with HIV.
[23:58] And we also have, for the first time, we’ve never had sort of live entertainment before. And with the help of Jay Cooper, we are going to have two sort of party concerts.
[24:15] On Friday night and one on Friday night, one on Saturday night. And we’ll also have some other arts opportunities opportunities and events during the conference.
[24:30] And, oh, and there’s also, we have a couple of panels on fighting white Christian nationalism. One about, from the Association of Secular Elected Officials, their board members are gonna come and talk to us about the importance of running for elected office at all levels from local on up. And we will also have a panel called Visible No More with Ron Millar of the Center for Free Thought Equality, which is another AHA affiliate and Sarah Levin of Secular Strategies and the AHA’s brand new legal and policy director, legal and policy director, Lily Bollorien, and they’re going to talk about ways to fight white Christian nationalism politically and electorally. I think we have a wide range of sessions and I hate to say something for everyone, but I hope we have something that will fascinate everyone. And also, in addition to the sessions and the events, there’ll be lots of opportunities for gathering and networking and building that community that we were talking about on an individual level with people from across the country. And, you know, this is our first.
[25:57] In-person events since 2018, so because in 2019, we were a year ahead of our time, unfortunately, in doing a version of an online conference in 2019. We did what was called a distributed conference at five universities around the country, which we live streamed.
[26:21] So we haven’t actually been in person since 2018, so we’re very excited. And we’re also doing a service project in the honor of the secular week of action. We are participating in Denver’s local hygiene drive, collecting hygiene products for people who need them in the Denver area. So if you look on the conference website, you’ll find a list of Items that we hope people will bring to the conference to donate to the to the hygiene trial, Yeah, what you’re saying about live entertainment? I experienced live entertainment at the 2001 conference in Los Angeles, When one of the award or somebody who got an award spoke out against another person that got an award that day, That was fun That was before me and I haven’t heard that story. I’m going to have to go ask some people about it. We will also have two awards banquets where we’ll be announcing, well. We will shortly be announcing the people who will be getting awards at those.
[27:39] Banquets, and we will at least have a Humanist of the Year Award and an Isaac Asimov Science Award.
[27:48] And I know that putting on a conference like this is a very expensive endeavor, And some people may complain about the price, but I see, though, that there are some options for people, if you could tell us what the options are. So we do have scholarship options. If the price of attending is more than you are able to pay, you can certainly email conference at AmericanHumanist.org. And we’ll, you know, talk with you about what we can do in terms of a scholarship to cover registration costs. We do also have this year a, an online component. And those tickets are only, that registration is only $25. And we will be live streaming all of the the plenary session. So all of the main stage sessions, which are I think all the sessions that happen on Friday and a few of the sessions that are happening on Saturday, along with the two awards banquets.
[29:05] That just the awards part, not the banquet part, you don’t need to watch people eating, but they will all be live streamed. So that online option is available as well, and that’s only $25. So if you can’t travel, or if you just are tuning in.
[29:26] Last minute and there’s not time to make plans, you can still be part of the conference online. Okay. As we wrap up our talk today, is there anything last minute, any last points that you want to make that we haven’t talked about, or maybe you want to restate something that you’ve already talked about for the people listening? I don’t think so. You’ve covered all my talking points, Doug. Oh, good. You’ve been very complete. I guess the only thing I would say is that we have, you know, a host of educational programs throughout the year. So, you know, stay tuned to our emails. You can sign up for emails at our website, AmericanHumanist.org, and register for most of our educational programs are virtual and free, and most of them are also posted on YouTube. So if you’re just looking for interesting humanist content, go to YouTube and search for American Humanist and see what we have on offer. Yeah, and you’re right, because I’ve watched some of those virtual webinars, and even used one or two of them in my meetings. Don’t tell anybody. No, wonderful. We encourage that.
[30:55] All right. Well, again, I really thank you for your time today, Nicole, and the conference sounds exciting, and I hope you get a lot of people attend. And I’m really pleased to be part of the American Humanist Association. It’s really one of the best humanist groups, I think, in the world. I really do. Thank you. And I really enjoy, And so I really am glad that I made the right decision to sign up as a chapter. That’s wonderful to hear. Thank you so much. And thank you for having me on. It’s been wonderful. Thank you for listening. For more information about the topics in this episode, please visit the episode page at glasscityhumanist.show. Glass City Humanist is an outreach of the secular humanists of western Lake Erie. Sholi can be reached at humanistswle.org. Glass City Humanist is hosted, written, and produced by Douglas Berger and he’s solely responsible for the content. Our theme music is Glass City Jam, composed using the Amplify Studio. See you next time!
Transcript is machine generated, lightly edited, and approximate to what was recorded. If you would like perfect transcripts, please donate to the show.
Written, produced, and edited by Douglas Berger and he is entirely responsible for the content. Incidental voice overs by Shawn Meagley
The GCH theme is “Glass City Jam” composed using Ampify Studio
This episode by Glass City Humanist is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.