The African American Heritage Society and The Pensacola State College Black History/ Multicultural Committee and their partners, The University of West Florida, and Fred and Tia Robbins, held an informative, yet, fun-filled presentation by Dr. Rick Kittles, the co-founder and scientific director of African Ancestry, Inc on Friday, March 15th at the Hagler Auditorium at Pensacola State College. “Who Are Your People” was the theme of the free lecture by Dr. Rick Kittles on the genetic history of African-Americans. The Saturday evening presentation was the finale of two other events that day which included a Meet and Greet at Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church and his interview on the Pensacola State College’s “The Aware Show” which will be aired this Sunday at 3:00 PM on WSRE TV.
Kittles took the audience on a journey from the beginning of migration from Africa to Europe to other parts of the world. His company, African Ancestry, Inc., is a genetic testing company that uses DNA to trace the ancestry of people of African descent back to a present-day African country or ethnic group of origin. He explained that DNA determines skin and eye color, body weight and height, hair texture and predisposition to diseases like cancer, diabetes, and sickle cell. Dr. Kittles surprised the audience when he stated that only 3 percent of African-Americans have Native American Ancestry while 30 percent of Black men have Y chromosomes that originate in Europe. The comical entertainer of Dr. Kittles emerged when he described a visit to West Africa, “I went to Nigeria to learn about my people; the Hausa, and saw a man that looked just like my uncle. He even stood like my uncle and was moving goods on the street corner just like my uncle did in Brooklyn.”
During his lecture he revealed the ancestry of Ophra Winfrey, Quincy Jones, and Bishop T.D. Jakes. He is most known for tracing their ancestry and other celebrities in the PBS series, “African American Lives”, hosted by Dr. Henry Gates, Jr.! Dr. Kittles placed an additional emphasis on the importance of positioning the study of genetics in an historical context, when he announced, “Oprah Winfrey thought she was of Zulu ancestry, but the Zulu people were not a part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.”
Immediately following his talk, Dr. Kittles presented a “Roots Reveal Ceremony”, uncovering the African ancestry of local personalities:
• Elder Bernard Yates, President of the National Primitive Baptist Convention Inc., and Pastor of the Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church in Pensacola was revealed to have Guinea Bissau ancestry in the Fulani people of Africa.
• Fred Robbins, a Pensacola native and a retired NFL defensive tackle and Super Bowl XLII Champion has DNA also found in the Tikar people of Cameroon.
• Dr. John Veasley, a retired public health care provider is the current President of the Pensacola Branch of the NAACP and Vice President of the Northwest Florida Genealogical Society was found to share his ancestry with the Djola people, also in the Guinea Bissau region of Africa.
Audience members were excited about the results. Event co-sponsor, Tia Robbins, was shocked to see similarities between Tikar culture and her husband’s family. Dr. Kittles revealed that the Tikar people have a strong musical tradition. Tia Robbins, Fred’s mother is a singer and a music teacher. Mrs. Robbins, a relative of Emmett Till, will take the test for her side of their family as a way to promote the importance of cultural identity and memory for her children. Elder Yates laughingly asked if he now needed to change his name.
Besides being in the forefront of the development of ancestry informative genetic markers, Dr. Kittles is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Associate Director of the Cancer Center, and Director of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was named in Ebony magazine’s, “The Ebony Power 100”, selected as one of the nation’s top 100 African-American “power players” from various professions. In March of 2012 Dr. Kittles presented the keynote address to the United Nations General Assembly on the, “International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade”. He received his Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from George Washington University in 1998. Dr. Kittles is well known for his research on prostate cancer and health disparities among African Americans and has been at the forefront of the development of ancestry-informative genetic markers, and the use of genetic ancestry to map genes for common traits and disease
The program coordinator, Teniade Toni Broughton, stated why the African American Heritage Society decided to host Dr. Kittles when she stated, “Dr. Kittles’ work reminds us that our history began before we were taken from Africa. We had a culture that connected us to a place of origin. However, those memories were intentionally stolen from us after we were stolen from that place. When we talk about the significance of remembering who we are, we’re not just defining the concept by bringing a thought back into our awareness, we are also ‘re-membering’, meaning putting pieces of a thing back together. We are putting our story back together and our broken lineages back together.”