Learning About Yourself With 23andMe

“Where are you from?”

It’s a question, Jeremiah struggled to answer most of his life. His home was in Oakland, California, but for Jeremiah simply saying “Oakland” wasn’t enough. All his life he longed to be able to say more about his African heritage. 

“I was a tree without roots,” Jeremiah said.

Where Paper Records Fail

Seeing his 23andMe results, gave him that extra bit of information about his African ancestry that he’d always wanted to know, said Jeremiah.

Paper records and family lore could take Jeremiah back only so far. Like most African Americans, the scourge of slavery meant he could never trace back to where in Africa his ancestors were stolen from before they were shipped off into bondage. His parents and grandparents were unsure about their ancestry beyond a few generations. An entrepreneur and motivational speaker, Jeremiah’s driving purpose is his teenage daughters, but despite how far he had come, he still felt like a stranger to himself.

That changed four years ago when he received his 23andMe reports. He hoped DNA testing would offer him some of the answers he’d been searching for most of his life. He also wanted to give his daughters a better understanding of their ancestry. He wanted them to have the confidence that comes with truly knowing who you are.

Connections to Africa

Opening his results for the first time, “meant everything.” Jeremiah learned that he is a descendant of the Ghanaian people, with ancestors also in Nigeria, the Congo and other areas of Africa. In that one moment, he felt connected.

“I finally felt at peace with who I am,” Jeremiah reflected. “People often walk through life wanting to have others understand and know them, but they don’t always understand and know themselves. Getting to know the stranger within each of us will better arm us to assist the strangers we encounter in life.”

Jeremiah always felt an affinity with the rich cultural heritage of Ghana, so it thrilled him to learn of his ancestral connection to the region. 

Sankofa

To capture what his discovery has meant, Jeremiah mentions the word, “Sankofa.” In the Twi language of Ghana, it means “to go back and get.” The phrase embodies the concept that for humans to better understand what’s happening now and what is possible in the future, they need to go back and comprehend what happened before. That’s what Jeremiah is trying to do, he said.

To mark the 400th anniversary of slavery in America, the government of Ghana sponsored in 2019 something called the Year of Return. An estimated half a million people who are part of the African diaspora visited Ghana. Jeremiah is determined to make his own pilgrimage there this year “to go back and get.”

There is a rite of passage in Ghana where African-Americans can return and surrender their American name to receive a new African name. Jeremiah was never given a middle name, so he plans to participate. Only he won’t be surrendering his American name. Rather he will “go back and get” the name Kwame as his middle name. Kwame is the name traditionally given to men born on a Saturday, just like Jeremiah was.

“I’m looking forward to taking my daughters to Ghana so they can see for themselves where we come from,” Jeremiah said. “They’re still young so they don’t fully understand what I wrestled with for decades. We all have to figure out who we are, but I hope that knowing more about their Ghanain heritage will help them in that process.”

Not everyone will have the opportunity to travel back to where their ancestors came from, engage in the culture of their ancestors, and ensure their future generations know more than they did. For Jeremiah, his 23andMe kit wasn’t just enlightening, it was life-altering. 

Now he knows where he comes from.