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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Robertson: “My I Owe You: A personal Black History tribute”

by Howard Robertson, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

At this age and stage of life, I don’t have very many bills.  It’s a great place to be.  While the young folks reading this may not clearly see their way to achieving this state in the near future, know that it will happen and you’ll be happy when it does.  But regardless of my low-to-no balance status, I’m still in debt.  I acknowledge that I still owe debts that must be paid.

I owe my Creator for the life and times he has allowed me to live.  If I could choose, I would not have wanted to be born at any other time of history or in any other place on earth.  I count myself blessed to have been a child of the 50’s and 60’s in Memphis, Tennessee.  To have experienced and be exposed from birth to the events, history and the people I’ve been…I’m enormously thankful.  I owe Him my life…literally.

I owe generations of my ancestors.  In 2006, I was asked by a TV reporter to participate in the now common ancestry DNA test.  I did, they did a news story and I was excited to learn that my ancestors were from the Senegal and Gambia countries of Africa.  Then my DNA make-up results rested comfortably in a National Geographic supercomputer somewhere.   

Paula Royster a genealogist and founder of the Center for African American Genealogical Research Institute (CAAGRI) in Fredericksburg, VA helps black families learn about their ancestors.  She was also president of the Fredericksburg-Princes Town Sister City Association which makes an annual pilgrimage to Ghana.

While in Ghana, Paula always collected DNA samples from select people she met for possible matches.  She’d never had a match, until 2008 when results from the mtDNA (maternal) of Nana Ndama Kundumuah IV synced up with mine, making it a near 99 percent probability that he and I share a common female ancestor.  By the way, Kundumuah is Chief (King) of Princes Town, Ghana and is Nzema.  That means I’m Nzema too.

Kwame Nkrumah, the first freely-elected president of Ghana was Nzema.  Nkrumah graduated from Lincoln University, PA in 1942, I graduated from Lincoln University, PA in 1973.  Education has always essentially been my family’s business.  My wife, daughter, aunts, grandmothers and cousins were all teachers.  Want to guess Chief Kundumuah’s profession?  Teacher.

In 2008 when the Chief and I met, he explained something to me.  The Nzema people were mostly farmers, so slave catchers needed only to raid their villages to capture as many able-bodied men, women and children as possible.  Then, they made them walk to Gambia and Senegal to be transported across the Atlantic.  Distance from Ghana to Gambia…1,047 miles.  That’s why the first DNA analysis traced my ancestral roots to Gambia and Senegal.     

I owe 28 generations of my relatives that survived thousand-mile walks, the horrors of the middle passage and persevered through four hundred years of slavery and oppression.

I owe my parents and other members of the greatest generation for teaching me by example and like their forefathers, never ever quitting.  I owe them the debt of communicating their contributions and continuing their legacy.  After all, how many of us are blessed to know where on the African continent we came from and actually meet an African relative?

But there’s one debt that’s more pressing than the rest.  It is the debt that I and other Baby Boomers should take with a very serious commitment to pay.  “To whom much is given, much is required.”  We’ve been given a whole lot and had better lives and more experiences than those generations before us who desperately fought for survival so that we may even exist.

Much is required that we effectively engage and share with our children and our children’s children.  We have obligations to leave things and people better than we found them both for our own biological children as well as those from other mothers and the term on this debt gets shorter every day.

I’m as serious about this as anything else in my life right now.  I know I owe everybody and I absolutely refuse to be the dude that Dennis Edwards (may he rest in peace) and the Temptations sung about.

“…and when he died, all he left us was a loan (alone).”

(Howard Robertson is a husband, father, entrepreneur, marketer and communicator. He is a child of the 60’s in his 60’s and an unabashedly proud native son of Memphis.

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