Throughout the month of September, secular student activists shared their stories with us in hopes of winning one of the SSA’s second annual Scholarships for Student Activists. We sorted through many fantastic stories of activism, with students sharing their stories of everything from interfaith and intersectional work to phenomenal stories of group running success.
We are thrilled to announce the winners of our $2,500 scholarships! A big congratulations to Amber Barnhill, Matt Enloe, Buxi Iacobone, and Amanda Scott!
Amber Barnhill is the winner of our former fundamentalist prize. She is a student at Lamar University in Texas and a former Independent Fundamental Baptist. She graduated from seminary and then tutored inner-city Chicago youth for five years, went on missions trips, and lived in Mexico where she taught missionary children. She was taught that God despises education and women who work outside the church or home, but after becoming a mother, her beliefs and priorities changed. Following the birth of her second child, Amber wrote down a plan to end her abusive marriage, get real job until her kids were in school, and then take on college. She is currently in her second semester at Lamar University. She is pursuing a degree in Sociology and Mathematics.
Amber identifies as an atheist even though she feels like labels don't really define who a person is. Last semester, Amber organized an Ask an Atheist day at her campus with the Lamar University Secular Student Alliance and came out publicly as an atheist for the first time. The local reporter covering their event ended up running a story focusing on Amber and how religious bullying led her to be more open about atheism.
Before Amber was involved with the Secular Student Alliance, she spoke out about separation of church and state when her four-year-old son's public school teacher had a 'repeat after me' prayer and and tried to convert him to Christianity behind her back. Amber was still a Christian at that point. She had never heard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but was directed to them and had them send a letter. She had no idea what she was getting into by speaking out publicly. Amber was ostracized, bullied, threatened, and even lost her job.
Going back to school last semester has helped Amber regain some normalcy and her activism lead her to find the secular community which helped her process what she was going through, evaluate her values and ideologies, and understand why religious equality is so important. Last year, she ended up reporting her child's school for a long list of church-state violations. Even though she did so anonymously, they figured out who reported them, and started treating Amber like an enemy. Amber was even verbally accosted in the school library and in front of her children. At the end of the year, she wrote an open letter to the district and read it at the school board meeting. The religious bullying in this district is almost unbelievable, but the battle isn't over yet.
Congratulations, Amber! We are so proud of the work you have done, and we wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors!