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Meet the society that's helping African-Americans trace their lineage

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Posted at 6:11 AM, Nov 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 00:42:42-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — In our Two Americas series, here's a view point you may never have considered: What if you never knew or learned your heritage and where you came from? That's the reality for many African Americans, who are now in pursuit of finding their history.

Scientists and historians say, on average, African Americans are of West/Central African descent. Over the years African Americans have turned to DNA Testing to trace their lineage, but there's a society that's helping Black people in the Springs dig deeper. They use their own records to find out names, dates, and other facts to help shape their family tree.

The African American Historical and Genealogical Society is located in the West Side Community Center, on Bijou Street. Candace McKnight is the President and CEO of the non-profit. Several times a year, she teaches classes how to research their own family tree.

"When the truth hits you, and you find out it's the truth you feel like a big accomplishment," McKnight explained. "You feel like hey, I know that family member. I know what they went through."

She also says it can be painful, because you're learning what life was like for family members during our country's most historically painful moments. McKnight says the process is worth it, because it creates a sense of self.

"It's important to know where you come from because you learn where you're going and why you behave the way you do," she explained.

Dr. Anthony Young and Leona Abdullah Ward agree, but went a different route in discovering their heritage. They used DNA to help find out what tribes their families originated from.

Dr. Young is the President of the Rocky Mountain Association of Black Psychologists. If you step inside his home, it feels more like a museum. Each wall contains African art and artifacts. He used 'African Ancestry', to trace his genealogy, to the Fulani and Hausa tribes in Nigeria.

"Once people understand what their roots are historically and culturally, we can draw strength from that," Young said. "We have thousands of stories of people who look like us who were able to overcome the odds against odds," he explained.

Hailing from a different tribe, is Leona Abdullah Ward. She owns 'In-Balance', a dance studio in Colorado springs. When she's not teaching people how to dance and move, she travels. Abdullah Ward spent time in Ghana, Cameroon, and other countries. She was able to trace her roots all the way back to Bamileke tribe in Nigeria.

"It's a bad feeling, or I don't know what you call it, when you hear other people talking and you can't say anything about where you come from," she said.

Both Dr. Young and Abdullah Ward, say their discoveries empower them, and encourage others to do make the same discovery.