Nearly eight-and-a-half years ago, I took a risk, and started a new journey. I had been working as a writer and editor at the City University of New York while completing my master’s degree in political theory at Brooklyn College. It was a good, steady job.
On the side, starting in the spring of 2008, I had also been volunteering for the Center for Inquiry, an educational and advocacy organization that advances secular government, humanist values, and freedom of inquiry. I was helping the director of CFI’s branch in New York City, Derek Araujo, to organize events with leading scientists, philosophers, authors, and activists, and raise the profile of the organization and its mission in the media.
Then, one day in January 2009, my phone rang. Derek informed me he had been promoted, and his position was open. Was I interested in applying, he asked? Yes, I said.
Not long after, I was offered the job, and faced a decision: in the midst of a rapidly tanking economy, would I leave a safe government job to pursue an unclear future with a nonprofit organization doing work I considered morally important, even necessary?
The answer was, without a doubt, yes. And, nearly eight-and-a-half years later, I can safely say I made the correct decision.
Since formally joining CFI in February 2009, my titles have changed. In early 2012, I was promoted to Director of Government Affairs and Main Representative to the United Nations, and moved from New York City to Washington, D.C. In directing CFI’s domestic and international advocacy efforts, I’ve spent the last several years lobbying on Capitol Hill for First Amendment principles such as separation of church and state, and advocating at the United Nations for freedom of religion, belief and expression.
Over the years, I’ve accumulated countless memories: arranging and speaking at public lectures and panel discussions that attracted crowds of hundreds; engaging in heated debates on the blogosphere; leading civic training workshops at several state capitols; representing CFI at meetings with U.S. senators and representatives, and officials with both the Obama and Trump administrations; co-organizing several Congressional briefings; delivering statements on the floor of the UN Human Rights Council; helping organize worldwide protests in defense of free expression in Bangladesh; being elected president of the UN NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief; communicating with and coordinating emergency relief responses for endangered secularists in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh and Pakistan. The list goes on.
That last point is worth expanding upon, even if briefly, for personally it is my most meaningful achievement at CFI. Two years ago, in response to the human rights crisis in Bangladesh, I initiated an emergency relief fund to help endangered secularists around the world. Launched as the Freethought Emergency Fund and later renamed Secular Rescue, this program has raised more than $100,000 and assisted more than two dozen individuals, including in some cases entire families, to escape danger and reach safe havens. I now count some of these individuals and their families as friends. I’ve even met some of their children.
Along with these countless memorable experiences, I’ve also learned a tremendous amount about advocacy, politics, domestic and international affairs — and, frankly, myself.
And so today I look back fondly on my time at CFI as I announce my resignation from the organization, effective June 7. Next week, I will begin a new journey, as the Washington Advocacy Manager for the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization working to defend and promote global freedom of the press, including the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. As I look back fondly, I look forward with great excitement for this new project.
It’s been a great honor to represent CFI and its members. I’d like to thank everyone who has provided assistance and support for my work along the way — including CFI members and donors, CFI’s tremendously driven and talented staff, volunteers at the grassroots level, and all of my fellow advocates at likeminded organizations.
I was volunteering to advance secularism and before I was being paid to do so, and I believe it will be a project of lifelong personal importance to me. So, this is not a permanent goodbye, for I am sure our paths will cross again.
Until that day — thank you.