For many black Americans with longstanding roots outside of Africa, their genealogy’s paper trail ends at a bill of sale, if the trail even goes that far.
(PAUSE. Let the historical, social, economic & personal implications of that sink in. Then you may continue.)
Dr. Rick Kittles is changing that.
He’s the world’s leading African-American DNA geneticist, and his work has lead to incredible breakthroughs in sickle cell disease, colon cancer, prostate cancer and more. He’s also the geneticist behind the PBS series Finding Your Roots.
When Dr. Kittles studied West African genes & noticed that his own chromosomes (he has a Nigerian heritage) differed, he started connecting the dots. He built databases of African-American men around the United States and was able to identify not only those men’s African lineage down to the tribe, but also the European colonial control of those countries & their distribution of slaves throughout the United States. Through DNA alone. The differences he observed were from the significant European contributions, sometimes upwards of 35%, present in every African-American man’s strands.
But his breakthrough meant more than ancestral lineage for a community. It meant present discovery for EVERYONE. With such a huge database of complex Caucasian and African-American DNA distributions, he’s been able to read genetic data for how certain diseases present in a lineage, what links and/or triggers those diseases might have (like vitamin D deficiency’s link to prostate cancer), and what environmental factors might impact diseases in affected DNA. Dr. Kittles’ method of using specific genetic markers to decipher ancestry was once rejected by the scientific community. Now, it’s the standard in biomedical research.
In his “free time,” Dr. Kittles is also the director of AfricanAncestry.com, using his database of over 30,000 indigenous African samples to help black Americans establish a history for themselves that goes beyond enslavement and into empowerment.