We Are Africa!
Exactly 35 years ago, the TV mini-series Roots caught the world’s attention and made us black folks start thinking about tracing our roots – not just back two or three generations to life on a Southern plantation, but back to Africa, just as Pulitzer Prize winning author Alex Haley did. I was pretty young back then when Roots premiered on TV… okay, I was in college. But it seems like only a few years ago – not 35, that families were glued to their TV sets for eight consecutive nights to watch the twelve hour mini-series, and then naming their newborns Kunte, Kizzy, and even Chicken George. What were they thinking?!
I was one of the 80-100 million viewers who watched TV ratings history in the making, and vowed to one day visit Africa in search of my own family’s roots. 23 years later, I visited The Gambia, West Africa, and the Juffureh Village that was home to Kunte Kinte until he was captured by slave hunters. I was welcomed in Juffureh with open arms by the Chief of the village and one of Haley’s oldest living ancestors. I recall wondering if these women were also my ancestors. At the time, I had the passion but not the wherewithal to embark on the same daunting 12 year quest as Haley’s, to trace my roots. But, then along came DNA and www.africanancestry.com!
Today, through advances in DNA testing, tracing our lineage to Africa has never been easier. I did it! And so did Questlove, Q-Tip, India.Arie, Quincy Jones, Common, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Chris Rock, Spike Lee, and other celebrities, plus, whole congregations at churches, students, athletes, politicians, and even a 99 year old grandmother. Actors LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett, Jr., who respectively played the Kunte Kinte and Fiddler characters from the Roots mini-series, also traced their ancestries back to Africa: Gossett, to Sierra Leone and Liberia; Burton, to Nigeria.
My results arrived in about 5 weeks, on the same day that then Senator Barack Obama accepted the nomination as President. I remember running to my room to put on my “Hope & Change” T-shirt before I opened the large envelope bearing my results. It felt so appropriate to discover my roots the same night we would elect the first African American president – who of course, happens to be of African descent.
I videotaped myself opening the envelope that night. With a sense of pride, I read that my maternal (mother’s line) ancestry had been traced to the Mende people of Southern Sierra Leone and the Kru of Liberia. Since this discovery, I’ve visited Sierra Leone. The experience was amazing (I’ll save that story for another blog), and I look forward to visiting Liberia in the very near future.
But enough about me… through this weekly Blog, I want to tell YOUR story! If you are an African Ancestry family member, contact me Shirley Neal at: firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experience. And if you haven’t taken the test yet what are you waiting for? Go ahead and take it! Now is the perfect time. It costs less during Black History Month 2012.
As for this Blog… visit us next week and every week for a new “We Are Africa” story. It could very well be YOURS!