How African-Americans Are Connecting with Roots Through DNA

Monica Myles holds a certificate from African Ancestry Inc. showing which tribe and country her ancestors came from over 500 years ago, Aug. 28, 2003, in her Mitchellville, Md., home.
Monica Myles holds a certificate from African Ancestry Inc. showing which tribe and country her ancestors came from over 500 years ago, Aug. 28, 2003, in her Mitchellville, Md., home.

Impatient, Laquana Cooke checked her e-mails every day. She scanned her computer screen in hopes of finally seeing the results of her DNA test. She knew that her family comes from somewhere in Africa, but she wanted to know which country, which culture, which language.

“I am a mother and I want to be able to tell my child where we come from,” said Cooke, an English professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. “You know who you are, but the test gives another dimension to your identity.”

Six weeks after she sent saliva to a private company, she got her results.

“I come mainly from Cameroon and Congo!” she exclaimed while rereading the document. “I met a Cameroonian at university, and I immediately thought of him,” she recalled. “I want to say ‘Hi, my brother, how are you!’”

Laquana Cooke took the test as part of a project led by a professor at West Chester, Anita Foeman, founder of the school’s DNA Discussion Project.

For more than 11 years, Foeman, who is African-American, has been working with volunteers to test their DNA and analyze participants’ expectations and reactions when they learn the results.

Foeman remembers one case in particular. Kimberly, a 20-year-old woman, identified herself as Asian and Scandinavian before the DNA test. But the color of her skin and her hair led people to suspect she had African ancestry.

“Are you asked if you are black?” Foeman asked her. Kimberly replied, “All the time, but I’m not!”

The teacher asked her to receive the results in front of a camera. “And indeed, she had 25 percent African DNA,” Foeman recalled.

Kimberly started talking about it and crying, explaining that her features had always caused controversy in her life. Sometimes people did not want to be her friend because she was black, she said, or people did not want to go out with her, so she tried to “ignore this part of her identity.”

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SOURCE: Nastasia Peteuil
Voice of America