An atheist group is launching a billboard campaign that targets African Americans — particularly those who may be seriously questioning their faith in God. These eye-catching conversation-starters will be posted in six U.S. cities. The atheist group behind the project, African Americans for Humanism (AAH), has strategically chosen church-populated locations for the ads.
In Dallas, Texas, for instance, at least 12 predominately-black houses of worship are stationed near the billboard. Aside from the location, the timing of the campaign was also planned to coincide, nationally, with Black History Month.
In an announcement about the campaign, organizer Debbie Goddard wrote:
Billboards and transit shelter ads featuring historic and contemporary black humanists are going up—in black neighborhoods!—in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington DC, and Durham NC. The ads highlight historic black humanists Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as eight contemporary activists and organizers representing local AAH-affiliated groups in each city.
The Christian Post further explains the billboards:
Each billboard, poster or banner that goes up says “Doubts about religion? You’re one of many” and has AAH’s website printed on it. Each sign will also feature the image of a famous historic black freethinker – like poet Langston Hughes, social reformer Frederick Douglass or writer Zora Neale Hurston – across from the photo of a contemporary black atheist leader.
At least one pastor in the Dallas area says that, though he disagrees with the message, he welcomes a debate with non-believers. Pastor David Lane of Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ — located just blocks from where the Texas billboard will be placed this upcoming Monday — maintains that faith is a cornerstone in African American heritage. Thus, he doesn’t seem too confident that people will jump onto the atheist bandwagon.
“Traditionally African Americans come out of a tradition that is led and motivated by faith. We are where we are and we are who we are primarily because we’ve chosen to believe in a power that’s bigger than ourselves,” Lane explained.
He went on to say that the close proximity of the ad will create a buzz in the community. The congregations close by, he contends, will be faced with a challenge by their atheist peers. This, too, will be the case in the five other cities where the billboards will be posted.
Alix Jules, a member of AAH, maintains that the purpose of the billboards isn’t to cause trouble. Rather, he claims that the goal is to inspire those who may be teetering on the brink of skepticism to come out and fully question their beliefs.
“It’s for the ones that really have doubt,” he said. “Understand you are not alone.”
Jules, though, has a personal stake in the campaign, as it is his face that will appear on a billboard in Texas, alongside Hughes. Jules was also featured in a July 2011 Ebony Magazine article about atheism in the black community.
“Can I believe in a God that will help me find my keys and win a ball game but allows hunger in places like Africa?,” he said. “Those are really big questions the church does not have answers to.”
It is these difficult and seemingly unanswerable questions that the AAH apparently hopes to capitalize on.