My name is Marquell Garrett. I was born in Aiken, SC on July 27, 1985 and was raised by a single mother. I was raised in Edgefield County until the age of 13 and then moved to North Augusta, SC (Aiken County) with my sister after my mother passed. At age fourteen I officially declared myself an atheist internally (not solely of dominantly based on my mother’s death). This isn’t to say I was hiding being an atheist but I wasn’t shouting it to the world either. I categorized myself as an agnostic for about four years in a subconscious attempt to protect myself from the negative stigma, isolation, and discrimination that comes along with being an atheist. After becoming an equal rights and political activist at age 18 I decided to make it clear that I was an atheist while not making myself out to be anti-religion. So I changed my category from agnostic to agnostic-atheist but this too was a subconscious attempt to avoid the negative stigma, isolation, and discrimination that comes along with being an atheist. After being an equal rights and political activist for three years and realizing that hiding the fact that I am an atheist was very hypocritical and wasn’t going to change things for the better in this country or world I decided to change my category to just plain old atheist and now refuses to hide my lack of a belief in a god or higher power/supernatural being. I specifically called it a lack of belief intentionally because atheism is simply a lack of a belief in a higher power or supernatural being and not the disbelief in a higher power or supernatural being. Atheism is not a religion and does not define what a person believes in. I personally believe in evolution, science, and proposing theories and hypothesis and rationally setting out to prove the theories and hypothesis true. I do not believe in hiding my lack of a belief in a higher power or supernatural being and will tell anyone who asks me of my religious beliefs that I am in fact an atheist. Matter of fact I have a State license plate frame on the front and back of my vehicle that reads, “Life Long Atheist”, and “Atheist For Life”. I was raised in a very religious family. Since I was a baby my mother took my sisters, brother, and myself to church every Sunday for Sunday school and church services. We also went to bible study on Wednesdays. It was unacceptable to question your belief in God and unacceptable to miss church. Even once my mother became too ill to go to church the church van would still come by the house to take my sisters, brother, and myself to Sunday school and church services on Sunday as well as bible study on Wednesdays. Before my mother passed I was secretly already questioning my religion since the age of 8. After my mother passed I continued to secretly question my religion being that it was unacceptable to openly do so. Even though my mother was dead and I then lived with my sister, my sister continued my mother’s religious traditions and convictions and so my brother and I would go to bible study every Wednesday and Sunday school and church services every Sunday. I began to study several different religions and at the age of 14 I declared myself an agnostic (secretly while subconsciously being atheist). I continued to study various religions and still do to this day. I even studied with Jehovah Witnesses and went to “Kingdom Hall” (Jehovah Witnesses’ place of worship) on multiple occasions. When I lost my faith in God and in any god for that matter (at age 14) I was terrified. I had been taught and was still being taught that without God and a religion you stood no chance in this world. I know now that this is not true but it was hard for me being young, black, and an atheist in the south. I must say that it is very difficult for atheists in the south than in any other place in this country. My first major test of discrimination and prejudice school wise came when I was in my senior year of high school when like every morning we all had to stand and recite the pledge. Being I was an agnostic but really an atheist I decided not to stand up and recite the pledge in protest as I had done a few times before. As I had done in the past, I did not make any noise and did not disturb the rest of the class. I guess the teacher finally got upset about the matter enough to send me to the disciplinary principal. I walked down to the principal’s office thinking I had done nothing wrong so nothing is going to happen to me. Boy was I wrong. I was told that I needed to apologize to my teacher and my class and that I would be getting two days of Saturday school detention. I couldn’t believe this and immediately called my sister to tell her what had happened. In her biasness and hatred against atheists she decided to take the side of the principal versus her own brother and so I was given 4 days of Saturday school detention due to the fact I refused to apologize to my teacher and my class. My sister decided to punish me by kicking me out the house. I then went to live with my older sister for some time who also knew I was an atheist. I had to agree to tone down my behavior as long as I stayed with her which I did while I was in her house but definitely didn’t when I wasn’t in her house. I decided to never recite the pledge to flag again until the phrase Under God is taken out of the pledge. My school was pretty upset with the matter and gave me three weeks of in-school suspension but after I still refused to recite the pledge to the flag they finally gave up. My first major test of discrimination and prejudice family wise was not being kicked out of my sister house, although this was pretty dramatic. My first major test was being screamed at, talked down to, and isolated by my uncle and family while being home on leave from the Army. I had a State license plate frame on the front and back of my vehicle that read, “Life Long Atheist”, and “Atheist For Life”. This is what started up the dramatic event as most people in the room at the time, including my uncle had no clue that I was an atheist. My first major test of discrimination and prejudice society wise was when I was driving to the Airport to drop a friend off. I was going 44mph in a 40mph zone when a police officer pulled me over. I was polite and corroborated with the police officer although I strongly felt it was unacceptable for him to pull me over in a 40mph zone for going 44mph. The police officer gave me a ticket for $125.00 and then asked me what was wrong with my license plate. He told me that it was hanging off to one side. I told him I wasn’t aware of the matter and I would get it fixed ASAP. I then watched him walk back to his car and drive off going about 45mph in a 40mph zone and did not have his police lights or sirens on so why didn’t he give himself a ticket? I then got out of my car and looked at my license plate. There was absolutely nothing wrong with my license plate. I then thought well maybe he fixed it but I realized that I watched him come to my car and leave and he never touched my license plate. Then it occurred to me. My license plates have a frame on the front and back of my car that reads, “Life Long Atheist”, and “Atheist For Life”. Was I a victim of profiling just because I was an atheist? It is hard being an atheist in the south, this I know from a firsthand basis. Still this does not mean that there shouldn't be more protests, boycotts, lawsuits and other mechanisms set in place to fight for equality in the south for atheists. It does atheists no good for southern atheists to hang out in the closet, we need the numbers and financing to fight back right wing America and claim our place in this nation as well. Never give up, and never forget that being an atheist doesn’t make you a bad, evil, ill moral person but rather a person free to advance and achieve anything.
Thanks for tour story Marquell. I, too, came from a strict religious upbringing. My grandfather was a Methodist preacher and I resided with my grandparents. I think where I turned the corner to critical thinking at a young age was the story of Noah and his ark. I can't recall if I was 7 or 8 when I realized how ridiculous the parable was.
I, also, was (and remain) an activist for societal improvement and equality. Originally from Houston, Texas, I now live in a small religious town called Clarksburg, Missouri. Moving here at the age of 17 to attend college at MU with a partial art scholarship.
As far as discrimination goes due to my disbelief, well that comes with the territory. You drop wolf in a town full of sheep and you can see why. I don't really consider my self as a proverbial wolf, I just wanted to make the sheep jibe.
Thanks again, Marquell. I wish you well.