Atheist Community of Tulsa was unofficially founded as Tulsa Atheist on the then-free online social networking portal, Meetup, in 2003 by Dan Nerren. Gathering once a month at the Zarrow Library meeting room, members traded stories and experiences of living as atheists in what is arguably the buckle of the Bible Belt due to its large presence of Christian beliefs and establishments and being one of the few urban areas in the United States where over 60 percent of the population attends church. Unable to find a place to call home, Tulsa Atheist relocated to Barnes & Noble Bookstore in early 2004 continuing to convene once a month.
In April of 2005, Meetup announced they would begin charging for their services. Without a source of income for the budding group to cover the expenses, it took a donation of $100 from a fellow humanist to keep the group online. The donation kept them afloat just over half a year, but ultimately the account was closed later that year.
Thanks to the generous contributions from a few key individuals, Tulsa Atheist again joined Meetup on April 22, 2006 (recorded as its official founding). At this time there were just two officers: the organizer and the assistant organizer. Dan Nerren served as the organizer, whose principal duty was collecting donations to pay for the site and securing a place to hold their meet ups and Kenny Nipp served as the assistant organizer, helping Dan as needed. The Official Meetings were held once a month at The Hideaway.
In January of 2007, Dan officially hung up his organizer hat and passed the torch to Kenny Nipp. Under Kenny's leadership, Tulsa Atheist introduced what would become an ACT staple: the social dinner.
In 2008, Nipp wrote and produced a 30-second television commercial for Tulsa Atheist. Undeterred by being rejected by every local network, he was finally successful in getting the local cable television provider to run the advertisement which not only made history by being the first atheist social club to run televised commercials on national cable networks, but saw the membership of the group double.
In 2009, along with Tulsa Coalition of Reason, Tulsa Atheist co-sponsored a billboard placed on the Interstate 44 which asked passersby, "Are you good without God?" The billboard concluded, "Millions are." It was placed in conjunction with the author of Good without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, Greg Epstein's visit as part of his book and publicity tour.
In April of 2010, Tulsa Atheist officially joined Facebook which allowed the community reach out to the younger demographic of atheists and foster a wider diversity among its members. The outreach continued throughout the summer when Tulsa Atheist tabled at the Free Tulsa Music Festival in late July.
In November of 2010, Kenny resigned his position of organizer and appointed William Poire in his place becoming the de facto president. With fresh ideas and a name change in mind, the new leadership began preparing for its most ambitious year of events yet including educational series, new social gatherings, community service opportunities, a new promotional video, FreeOK, and the introduction of a dozen billboards sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The beginning of 2011 saw an increase of events from the average two to eight per month. In early January, The Atheist Experience's Matt Dillahunty was invited to speak at the National Day of Reason Food/Blood drive slated for May 5, 2011. The planned presentation ultimately fell through, however the invitation later evolved into FreeOK as Dillahunty's friend, AronRa, accepted an invitation to present alongside Dillahunty.
In February of that year, Tulsa Atheist joined with Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist and recorded a high definition, professionally produced promotional video featuring diverse members of the growing community. It was then that Seth expressed an interest in "coming out" from behind the camera and speak alongside Matt and AronRa and the concept of FreeOK was born.
On March 7, the FreeOK was announced to the members and grassroots fundraising began to afford the inaugural convention. With high expectations, William vetted and appointed Rhonda Dorle to the vice presidency on March 10. This appointment, in addition to the official name change to from Tulsa Atheist to Atheist Community of Tulsa, was announced at the Official Meeting later that month.
In early April, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation erected our Adopt-A-Highway sign which recognizes "Atheists of Tulsa" on Highway 169 northbound on the E 21st S exit and ACT had their first of many roadside cleanups later that month.
On May 5, 2011, ACT celebrated the National Day of Reason (a response to the National Day of Prayer) by collecting and donating 603 pounds of non-perishable food items to Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma and 16 units of blood for Oklahoma Blood Institute.
By June, we had successfully raised enough money to hold the convention. With $10 admission costs, anything less than 200 attendees would have put ACT in the red, but we were delighted to have 318 freethinkers in attendance from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Iowa, and Minnesota to see Matt Dillahunty, Seth Andrews, AronRa, Abbie Smith, and Dr. William Morgan.
To be continued...