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.

The Alexandra Hotel Reimagined Again

Alexandra Hotel

Here we go again. I wrote about Boston’s Alexandra Hotel back in January 2019. Then many updates to the post followed, because the situation with this property kept changing. As it has for the decades that I’ve been following it.

As expected, the pandemic didn’t make the proposed development of the property any easier. To me, it feels like this property has a purpose that hasn’t been found yet. With an owner that hasn’t been found yet. Because everything with it has been difficult for such a long time. When the purpose and owner are aligned, I would think things would flow easily.

But who knows? Maybe this next proposal will be it. A virtual public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 7, 2021, 6:30pm – 8:30pm. Also, the public may submit comments through Friday, September 17, 2021.

The last proposal for Alexandra Hotel was for a 150-room boutique hotel. Because the pandemic completely changed the hotel industry, that plan was scrapped. Now the intent envisions 106 residential condos. 71 of those units will be “Compact Units” that are a mix of studios and one bedrooms.

The last meeting I attended in person, so seeing this all play out on Zoom will probably be pretty wild. I’m planning to watch.

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Photo Credit: Nina LaNegra

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.

December 14th 2020

December 14th 2020

Today, December 14th 2020, is a day that needs to be marked for history’s sake. And there was even a total solar eclipse that added to the drama of it all.

Election News

The electoral college voted to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be the next president and vice-president of the United States. Because the current president refuses to concede that he lost the election, this vote feels like the win is cemented. Dozens of court challenges be damned.

Pandemic News

The coronavirus vaccine is finally here! Today, the first doses were administered in the United States and the vaccination effort is happening all over the world. The vaccine is being given to healthcare workers, the elderly and other vulnerable groups first. Since I’m not over 65 and have no underlying health issues, I most likely won’t be able to get it until March or April. But I will be getting it.

December 14th 2020, is a day that I want to remember and one that will no doubt be in future history books.

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Image: YouTube