As far as Kindle Cox was concerned, she was a Marylander through and through.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Charm City was all she had ever known.
With chocolate skin, brown eyes and hair that gave no inkling of a heritage labeled much more “Black,” Cox never thought of herself as anything other than African American.
Last summer, she got a rude awakening.
As it turns out, after having her DNA tested, scientists studied her genetic markers and placed her roots much farther away than Baltimore, and the United States at large.
The 16-year-old is Senegalian.
“I had always wondered about my ancestry,” Cox told the AFRO. “Knowing where you come from is really important for present and future identity.”
“My results said there was a 98 percent chance I came from the Mandinka people in Senegal,” she said. “It wasn’t anything that I expected. Most African Americans can say that they’re from Africa, but they can only say ‘the Motherland.’”
Cox had the testing done through participation in a 4-year program for area teen girls, Goaldiggers The Sankofa Project, led by Meshelle Foreman Shields, better known as MESHELLE The Indie-Mom of Comedy.
Last year the 14 ladies began to track the branches of their family tree. The journey culminated in gene testing for them and five advisors through African Ancestry.com. Funding came from private donors and fundraising efforts.
“It was always one of our key goals- to help them uncover their heritage and their ethnic identity through genealogy, anthropology, and forensic science,” said MESHELLE.
The cohort was privileged to have co-founder of African Ancestry (africanancestry.com), Gina Paige present a full lecture and slide presentation explaining the methodology and outcomes. With a simple swab of the mouth, the girls tested their mitochondrial DNA to place the first ancestors on their mother’s side.
“It has been an interesting adventure putting these pieces together. We’ve helped unearth 400 years of mystery for a lot of them in being able to make that connection.”
MESHELLE said the results were shocking and “life changing,” for their initial cohort of young women, most of whom have now begun college.
“We had girls from Ghana, girls from Burkina Faso, advisors from Sierra Leone.
Three girls didn’t have a specific country, and some of them had Arabian descent. One of our advisors was directly related to Native Americans.”
There were also three young ladies who had foremothers of European descent even though according to Cox, they had skin only slightly lighter than her own brown complexion.
“It raised interesting conversations,” said MESHELLE, whose test results linked her matrilineal roots to Nigeria, making her a direct descendent of both the Yoruba and Fulani people.
According to Christa Cowan, a corporate genealogist with Ancestry.com, the oldest living family member is the place to start digging for genealogy clues.
“Do that sooner than later,” she said. “Sometimes by the time you realize you are really interested in this- those people are gone- and with them, the information that they have about the family.”
Members of Goaldiggers The Sankofa Project, guided by Lyndra Pratt Marshall, African American History & Culture Commissioner, vice chair for the state of Maryland, (http://www.africanamerican.maryland.gov/Commissioners.html) used Ancestry.com, census records, death certificates and extensive library research to aid in the focusing of once-blurry lineage lines.
After lifting the veil on her own heritage, Cox said the best part about the new-found knowledge was “having that culture there for you to learn and soak up.”
“I Googled images and asked my friends if they thought I had similar facial characteristics. The role of women in their society was an interesting read, and my mom ordered a disc of music.”
After giving it a listen, Cox said she had never felt more in tune with her heritage.
“The music was so expressive I wished I knew what they were saying,” she said.
“This was the music from my people and I can claim that wholeheartedly.”
For more information visit meshelle.net/goaldiggers.