History in Our DNA

February 6th, 2008

Thirteen blogger: Neal Shapiro, President

I’ve been watching and laughing at comedian Chris Rock’s performances for years, but I was so moved by his emotional reaction in tonight’s African American Lives 2, which is premiering tonight on Thirteen and on PBS stations all across America.

The series is about giving people a way to reclaim their own personal histories. For African Americans, perhaps few things are more eye-opening than discovering the stories of their ancestors – stories that were obscured by years of slavery America.

The series has gotten some wonderful reviews in news outlets around the country. But I must say, what really got my attention was a recent post to a blog called The Genetic Genealogist. “According to some sources, genetic genealogy testing rises considerably during February, which is Black History Month . . . . Part of this might be due to last year’s very popular TV show African American Lives on PBS. Starting next week (on the 6th) is the first half of the latest version of the show, African American Lives 2. I’ll be watching, and I think most of you will be interested in the show as well.”

Well, if that’s not a sign of impact, I don’t know what is.

This is a series that will mean something to everyone, not just African Americans, because there is something universal in learning who we are and where we come from.

When Chris Rock cries upon learning that his great-great grandfather enlisted as a soldier after 21 years as a slave, you see how this remarkable series transforms personal genealogy into our collective history.

When you see Tina Tuner’s jaw hit the floor at the news that her ancestor sold an acre of land to build the very school that Ms. Turner would one day attend . . . well, you realize the power this series has to touch us all.

You’ll see a lot of tears shed tonight by a lot of famous folks. Don’t be surprised if you shed a few of your own.

If you have a question about African American Lives or anything else on Thirteen, don’t keep it to yourself. Click “Write Neal” to send me your questions and comments.