Finding Out Where I Came From

About 30 percent of black males discover, via the paternal test, that their distant ancestor is a white European. At first I didn't understand. Then it made sense. In slavery days, it was white men who associated sexually with, took as their right, female slaves. Strom Thurmond was hardly the first white man, while professing moral outrage at the idea of race-mixing, to do just that himself.

Thurmond's attorney confirmed in December 2003 that in 1925, when he was 22, he had fathered a child with a black teenage housekeeper. Thurmond died in June 2003.

For "GMA," I took only the maternal test. The night before the story would run -- and my maternal lineage would be revealed -- I felt like I used to the night before the first day of school when I was a child: a combination of nervousness, anticipation and excitement.

Stolen From Africa

Robin Roberts was the "GMA" anchor who introduced the piece. My nervousness mounted. The closed door of my family past would soon be opened.

I was only dimly aware that we were on television when Robin announced that the result was: Ashanti people of Ghana. At once, I was stunned, amazed, and also suffused with pride. I knew a little about Ghana -- it was a former British colony and one of the first African countries to gain independence after World War II in 1957. I knew even less about the Ashanti except that they had a powerful kingdom and that their leaders were royalty. It didn't matter then what I didn't know. I now had a knowledge of which I had been deprived all my life.

After the show, I went for a walk. At first, I felt glorious, almost as if I had been reborn. And then I felt angry. Angry thinking about this person -- my ancestor -- who long, long ago had been, in the words of the Bob Marley song, "stolen from Africa." My mind focused on the word stolen. My eyes teared up. Yes, that was exactly it -- stolen.

The next day, I checked my British Airways frequent flier account. I had about 100,000 miles. I had enough miles to fly to Accra. I chose dates in March. It was the dry season, I learned from research, a good time to go. I got a ticket. I had no plan, no idea what exactly I would do beyond going to the land, to the people the genetic test said were my people.

A few weeks later, African Ancestry did the paternal test. The result: Temne people of what is now Sierra Leone. I kept thinking that my father, who died 10 years ago, would have been so proud.

Estranged From Our Roots

About a month ago, I was waiting to cross Seventh Avenue near Madison Square Garden. The doorman at the hotel across the street, a tall, powerfully built, brown-skinned man in a long, thick, gray overcoat looked at me. I nodded to him, still waiting for the traffic to clear enough so I could cross.

Then he spoke to me.

"You're the man on television," he said. "You're from Ghana."

I said, "Are you from Ghana?"


We shook hands. He smiled. We chatted for a little while. I told him I was going in March. He wished me well. We shook hands again, warmly, as brothers.

But the sad reality is that for most African-Americans, even as we call ourselves that, we are in so many ways estranged from our roots.

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