Community, DNA, Kin & Black History

DNA description and genetic community

“Your ancestors are always your ancestors. But their communities may not be your communities.”

                                                                                              ~ Matt

The quote above is from an article called “To Be Good Kin” on the website Midnight Sun and it makes a lot of sense.

Just because our DNA says one thing, doesn’t mean that’s our community — regardless of the percentage. The article is an excerpt from the book, Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our Future, by Patty Krawec, which will be released this September. The author is Anishinaabe and writes about how settler colonialism tried to change Indigenous ways of life and the idea of kinship.

Kin & Community

I feel like I sort of understand the big picture idea of kinship. But not so sure I understand the exact detailed meaning. There are many definitions for it.

Merriam-Webster says it’s a group of persons of common ancestry or clan; one’s relatives. According to Oxford, it’s our family and relations. Vocabulary.com says it’s a group of people related by blood or marriage. However, I would also add that it should include people related by adoption. But I don’t think these definitions cover everyone.

What about a neighbor who takes in someone who is unrelated and there is never a formal legal proceeding to make them family? What about close friends who are like family? We all have “aunts” and “uncles” who aren’t blood relatives, but they are part of our families. Are they kin? They’re definitely part of our communities.

Each of us has more than one community. But sometimes, because they are so intrinsic to our identities, we may not really think about it. We may take these different groups of people for granted. One group might center around our work or school. Another may revolve around our spiritual life. Another may revolve around a sport or hobby. One of the most central is based on blood relatives. Friends who enter our lives through one or more of these groups also play vital roles in our lives.

Maybe depending upon how close we get to certain individuals in these groups, any of them could be considered kin. Maybe all of them. I’m not really sure. What if you don’t spend holidays or other special occasions with your blood relatives, but with members of your church or your book club? What if you combine all of them?

The idea of kin and community is fascinating and worthy of much discussion. Thinking about the quote above made me think about my DNA results. They are all over the map, but heavily concentrated in West Africa. While I don’t know the names of the individuals, the blood in my veins is from my ancestors. The majority who hailed from Cameroon, Congo, Nigeria, Benin & Togo, Ivory Coast & Ghana.

Black History Month

I hadn’t planned on writing a Black History Month post. Often the celebration feels forced and fake. Like when conservative Republicans have the nerve to say they are celebrating it on Twitter at the same time they are doing everything possible to prevent Black people from voting.

Anyway…. The countries that my ancestors are from reveal a pattern showing the history of this country. A horrible and frightening trend by many states and localities seeks to prevent teaching American slavery and the history of Black people in this country.

My DNA connects me to three specific genetic communities: Early North Carolina African Americans (1700 -1800); Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama & Mississippi African Americans (1775 – 1950), Mid-Atlantic Coast African Americans (1750 – 1950). Where certain Africans were taken from and brought to in the United States is evident in my DNA now and in the DNA of all of us who descend from Africans enslaved in this country. No matter the attempts to erase what happened, it shows in the science.

Slavery severed generations of families and communities in countries all over Africa. It contributed to the growth of the African diaspora and the creation of African Americans. These ancestors’ communities may not be mine, but at least knowing the countries lets me be curious in a more specific way. And maybe I can learn more about these communities in the future.

If you’re interested in learning more about Black History, during the month of February, you can stream for free a three-part class: Black History, Black Freedom and Black Love on MasterClass.com.

Boston History: Mayor Kevin White & My Father

Boston Mayor Kevin White
Left to right: Barbara Christopher (8th grade), Boston Mayor Kevin White, Mrs. Gardner, Dallos Perry (8th grade), Thomas Johnson. (February 4, 1971)

Last week, while looking through photos at my mother’s house, I found this rare gem. A picture from 50 years ago!

Since my father’s passing in 2018, it’s especially nice to find “new to me” old photos of him. And this one is for the history books. He’s with then Boston Mayor Kevin White.

I’m not sure exactly what the occasion was for this photograph, but it must have had something to do with his work as a Boston school teacher. He taught in the Boston Public School system for more than 20 years. Writing found on the back of the picture gives the names and date.

The timing of finding this picture seems especially poignant. Sometimes it feels like overall not much changes in the world. But it does. Step by step.

The week that I found this picture, showing one of Boston’s most influential mayors from last century, Kim Janey made history as the city’s first woman and first Black mayor of Boston. Janey is the 55th mayor and White was the 51st.

And the way it happened was completely unexpected! I remember being so excited when Michelle Wu decided to run for mayor back in September. Then just weeks later, Andrea Campbell put her hat in the mayoral ring. Boston could have a woman of color as mayor!

Then several others decided to run and there’s been speculation about even more. With so many people, it wasn’t as exciting anymore and I was over it. After all, I don’t even live in Boston, so I wouldn’t actually be voting.

But then, out of the blue, President Biden tapped Mayor Walsh for Secretary of Labor. Suddenly, we have a Black woman becoming mayor during Women’s History Month. And the mayoral election had nothing to do with it. Plot twist!

When the time is right, change happens in ways we can never imagine. Like the way the first woman mayor in the United States was elected back in 1887. It was supposed to be a cruel joke — only Susanna Madora Salter won.

My father loved politics and was quite the conversationalist. When a major event happens, I always wonder about conversations we would have had. Which makes me think even more about this picture.

Since the opportunity presented itself, I’m sure my father must have said something to Mayor White. I can only imagine. But on that day back in 1971, Mayor White got the chance to have a conversation with Thomas Johnson. Which is something that I now miss everyday of my life.

Quote of the Week: Amanda Gorman

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

In the norms and notions of what just is

isn’t always justice.

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,

but simply unfinished.”

~ Amanda Gorman

Watching the inauguration this past Wednesday was a breath of fresh air — a spiritual cleansing for the nation.

The previous two Wednesdays featured an insurrection and then an impeachment. It was heartbreaking. While our democracy is still in a very fragile state, it feels good knowing that our current president, unlike the previous one, is not actively seeking to harm our country.

So I will bask in the balm of Amanda Gorman’s words. This amazing young woman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, is helping us move in the right direction.

Sea Us Now & Black Beach Culture

Photo from Sea Us Now

As a Virgo Sun and Taurus Rising, my astrology is deep into the earth. That may explain why I love my plant babies so much!

But some of the best times in my life take place near water. Not long ago, I learned that I’m a Scorpio Moon, which adds some water to my chart. Growing up on the East Coast may have a lot to do with it too. Living in Quincy, Massachusetts, I’m just a couple of miles from the beach. When I open the windows in the summer and the wind blows just right, I can smell the salty air — one of my favorite scents.

There was a pool in the apartment complex where I grew up, so I swam a lot. I loved doing handstands under water and playing Marco Polo. I lounged by the pool almost everyday during the summers and played ping-pong in the cabana. As children, my brother and I took swimming lessons at the local college. Our parents brought us to the beach for picnics and lots of swim time on the Cape. As a young teenager, I even went to marine science camp.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized many considered it unusual for African Americans to swim. When you think about movies showing beach culture, often focused on surfing, someone like me usually isn’t there. But things are changing.

On Instagram, I found a group of Black women surfers calling themselves Textured Waves. Their website describes who they are and their goal.

Textured Waves [w]as created to propagate the culture and sport of women[‘]s surfing towards women of color and underrepresented demographics through representation, community and sisterly camaraderie. We value integrity, inclusion and advocating diversity in the water.

In the early summer, Textured Waves premiered a short film called Sea Us Now, which was created in collaboration with Seea, a progressive women’s surf brand. The film itself is extremely short, but the conversation around it is fascinating and worth watching.

It reminded me of the importance of creating something for the future. Documenting that yes, Black women surfers are out there enjoying life right now. Their existence shows a roadmap for the next generation. The conversation alludes to the precarious history of African Americans and water. Our African ancestors were brought to this country in ships. Many suffered horrifying deaths at sea and those who lived witnessed it. There is also a strong history of racial discrimination at public swimming pools in this country. If we look at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, even our drinking water is harmful. African Americans have ancestral and current trauma involving water that needs healing.

The joy of Sea Us Now starts that aquatic healing. It feels like a daydream. The women of Textured Waves in colorful bathing suits catching the waves. The sound of moving water, peaceful music and driving in a vintage car by the seashore. Carrying their surfboards. Palm trees and ice cream. Short vignettes of style, beauty and warm weather. Flowering trees blowing in the breeze along with their natural hair. Sisterhood. A carefree afternoon. Time for reflection and dreaming. The gift of exercise on the beach. Black health and wellness.

They describe the film as “a re-imagining of our history with the coastline and the sea” and “a love letter to our past and our future.”

If you want to skip right to the film, it starts a little after 25 minutes and goes until almost 30 minutes. But I do hope you watch the conversation.

It’s quite striking that the timing of the film’s release was in the midst of the protests after George Floyd’s death. Watching the video of his murder made me physically hurt. This film is like a balm for the body and soul. In the midst of everything, we can still find happiness and peace. We always have. That’s how we’ve survived.

:: :: ::

Screenshot: YouTube

Ocean Spray All In On The Dreams Challenge

 

Ocean Spray Dreams Challenge

By now you’ve probably seen the viral video by @Doggface208, where he peacefully glides along on his longboard, singing Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, while joyfully chugging down a big jug of Ocean Spray Cran·Raspberry juice.

What’s not to love? Great song. Happy guy. Delicious and healthy juice. Plus I love the local connection with Ocean Spray. Their corporate headquarters are in southeastern Massachusetts, fairly close to where I grew up. I remember visiting cranberry bogs as a kid. But I digress.

So anyway, sales and streams of the song skyrocket. Fleetwood Mac gives their nod of approval on Twitter. Then Mick Fleetwood makes his own video doing the same.  A new meme is born – Cranberry Dreams or Dreams Challenge.

The man behind @Doggface208 is named Nathan Apodaca. A recent profile of him in the Los Angeles Times shares that he buys the large jugs of juice to save money and drinks about one a day. “The colder, the better.” According to the article, his car battery had died the day he recorded the now famous video and he was on his way to work.

Since he was having problems with his car, Ocean Spray surprised him with a brand new truck! A video was posted a couple of hours ago on their Instagram feed. Of course the truck is filled with more than enough juice to last for a little bit. Ocean Spray CEO, Tom Hayes even did his own version of the Dreams Challenge.

I wonder who’s next!? Does this thing have momentum? Stay tuned.

*Updated 10/8/2020* The answer to the question about momentum is absolutely yes! Have you seen the fly from Pence’s head during the debate? Take a look at this hilarious video with the sound on.

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Screenshot: Ocean Spray Instagram