The Day I Cried at Work

I was printing mailing labels for a large project. Mindless work. Be-bopping to the music blasting from my headphones. I pop back on to my computer to check my work email. On the second monitor, my personal email box was open.

New message.

I immediately freeze. Its THE email I’ve been waiting for. In fact, it was the very email that I thought about last night. Exactly 6 weeks had past. “I should get it soon,” I thought before going to bed.

And here it was. My DNA results from I had purchased the kit on a whim. Around July 4th to be exact because there was a sale. Instead of the usual $99 it was marked down to $79 for the holiday. I thought what the heck. Then instantly regretted it because it seemed like a waste of money.

Too late. The kit was bought. When it arrived, I was faced with the task of conjuring up enough spit to provide a decent sample. Once I did, I sent it off and thought nothing about it.

That is until the email came. It directed me to sign in. Which I did. It directed me to my results which I clicked on. BOOM. There it was.

dna results

I stared at it for a couple of moments. My eyes going from the list to the map. Over and over again. And then I felt that all too familiar sting in my eyes. What the devil?, I thought. Why am I tearing up became why am I crying?

I cried because one of the biggest mysteries of my life has been solved. A piece of who I am finally clicked into place.

I’m a black woman. I’m a black woman in America. You go back 5 generations and you hit the wall that is slavery. That seemingly impenetrable wall. Any hope of finding out where my ancestors came from is obliterated by it. Some people, like an old coworker, can proudly proclaim their Irish ancestry and even name the town their ancestors came from. For me, all I can do is shrug. That’s one of the realities of being black and in America.

That part of who you are is a mystery to you. And before DNA testing, was always a mystery.

I may not know the specifics but I can look at a map and point to spots in Africa and say “that’s where my people come from.” The same people who lived and flourished in Africa. Who survived the horrendous middle passage. The degradation of the auction block and slavery. Who endured. Suffered loss. Survived. Eventually tasted sweet freedom. Persevered in spite of the limitations placed on them by society (racism, sexism, etc).

Those are my people. Those beautiful, beautiful people of the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal.

The other reality was 14% that hailed from Great Britain. Finding out about the whiteness in me was not surprise. I’ve read history, I’ve heard family stories, I’m not naive to what was going down. Did it fill me with the same level of pride? No, not really. It was different. A matter-of-fact acceptance.

In my family, we joke about it. Anytime there is a weird genetic quirk we often blame it on our great grandfather. Family legend is that he was a white traveling salesman. He took one look at my great grandmother and well….. cut to my grandmother Lillie Bell. My sister has brown hair that turns red in the sun. Or, my aunt and I are the only ones in the family with freckles (hers are more pronounced than mine). It must be our great granddaddy. We laugh about it. But it touches on a larger issue.

We all have a little something in our background. Our DNA tells us so.

The reactions of these people closely resemble my reaction to my DNA results. I didn’t even expect to cry but once I had the results, I couldn’t help but tear up.


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Presenter Pro-Tip: Water

This type works not only for presentations but job interviews as well. If you are ever asked, ‘Do you want some water?,’ always, always say YES. The water helps, along with the peppermint candy, against the dry mouth.  It’s also a very effective stall tactic.

Now, every now and then, you’ll get a question, whether you’re giving a presentation or a job interview, that stumps you. You need a moment to think without it coming off that you have no clue what to say. I’ve found its at that moment you reach for the water.  You won’t have to fake thebottled-water ‘I’m thinking’ face because that’s what you’ll be doing.  You unscrew the cap, maybe say ‘that’s a good question,’ and take a sip (or swig) of water.  The whole time your brain is working.  You’ll be surprised what a few seconds can do.  I think its something about the split focus (drinking water + coming up with an answer) helps the brain to find that answer.

Just think if you didn’t have the water. Those would be some agonizingly, painful, awkward seconds that, to you, will feel like hours. At least with a sip of water, it makes your brain think of something else instead of the ‘OMG, I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER.’

Give it a try. You’ll be surprised.

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Accepting what I don’t know: Outreach and Educators

I’ve worked with educators as part of my Teaching American History in South Carolina experience. I’ve assisted in teacher workshops at the National Archives in Philadelphia.

I’m not an educator.

I’m an archivist and a historian. The way I approach, search, and handle documents is inherently different. I’ve learned to embrace it especially when it comes to engaging with educators.

I know what educators face in the classroom and the problems with administration but that is not my lived experience.  One of the toughest challenges I face in my position is reaching out to educators. I love what they do and I want to support them any way I can.  However, I don’t know the first thing about what they want or need from me as an outreach professional.

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