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Group Celebrates Black Atheists With Controversial Billboard

Alix _Langston
A controversial billboard celebrating black atheists set to go up in Oak Cliff on Feb. 6, 2012. (Credit: DFW Coalition of Reason)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It hasn't even gone up yet, but a billboard set to appear in Oak Cliff Monday is already causing a stir.

It's one of several popping up around the country during Black History Month.

The ad campaign, sponsored by the atheist groups African Americans for Humanism and the DFW Coalition of Reason, focuses on historic figures and modern day individuals who have questioned religion.

"I was at church twice a week, three times a week sometimes," said Alix Jules, the diversity director for DFW COR, who's featured on the local billboard.

Growing up in an African American community, Jules says he was immersed in the church, but by high school he began to have his doubts.

"As I was pulling away from the church, my family was 'OK, so you kind of call yourself a doubter' ... But as soon as I used the word 'atheist', that was it."

Jules says his family cut him off.
 He now hopes his billboard will help other black skeptics know they're not alone.

Area pastors, though, are upset the billboard will appear in south Oak Cliff, along Interstate 35 and Illinois Avenue, within a mile of about a dozen black churches.

"It's a direct confrontation to the church. Absolutely," said Pastor Kyev Tatum.

Tatum faced off against the DFW COR just over a year ago, calling for a boycott of Fort Worth busses displaying the group's ad slogan, "Good Without God."

This time, he's taking a much different approach.

"We want people to just ignore the billboard signs. We're asking people and pastors not to get excited about the billboard signs," said Rev. Tatum. "They're trying to get people to be members of their organization and the way they think – and I think we are giving them too much attention."

Earlier this week, Tatum criticized the Coalition of Reason in an article published in the Dallas Observer. He claimed they were more about words than actions.

"We have a garden … that has about two, three thousand pounds of greens that need picking to give to the poor folk," he was quoted as saying.

Well, Sunday afternoon, the group showed up at the pastor's church in south Fort Worth to help him out. With an iPhone, they shared footage of members picking turnip greens that will donated to area food banks.

"I gave … Rev. Tatum a call and said, 'I hear you have some greens that need picking. I'm on my way," said Zach Moore, spokesman for the Coalition of Reason. "He was kind of shocked and surprised that we were coming out. But he was encouraged by that; he felt really good about us making that gesture.

Kyev Tatum and Zach Moore
Rev. Kyev Tatum, left, stands with atheist and head of DFW Coalition of Reason Zach Moore. Moore volunteered to help Tatum pick turnip greens to donate to a local food bank. (Credit: Rev. Kyev Tatum)

Tatum emailed CBS 11 a photo of himself side-by-side with Moore. He also joked about the vegetables, writing "the devil might have picked it, but the good lord sent it." He also titled the photo "Atheists need God too.jpg."

The pastor also noted that he wants to take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to coalition members and bring them back to God.

"I think they're crying out," he said.

Jules, meanwhile, believes the billboard has already succeeded.

"The goal of the campaign is to increase public discourse, especially in the African American community, get them talking about it."

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