This is a guest post by Dr. Timothy Seigler, Associate Professor in the School of Education at North Carolina Central
University in Durham, North Carolina who teaches courses on Culturally Responsive Leadership and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Dr. Seigler is introducing the first of its kind research project known as the Ancestry Cultural Legacy Project.
Students from two of my courses and from one other cultural diversity course have embarked on a journey to explore issues related ethno-cultural legacy and cultural identity. With the generous support of AncestryDNA, these students and I will complete a pre-project questionnaire, videotape initial thoughts and feeling about participating in the Ancestry Cultural Legacy Project, engage in a family “picture share,” and submit AncestryDNA samples. While waiting on the sample results, the student participants will discuss related issues pertaining to culture in general, as outlined with our course textbook.
While waiting on the results we will utilize Ancestry databases to explore our family histories and create a comprehensive “Autobiographical-Memoir” treasure box. This treasure box will include a number of items such as an “AutoBioMem” narrative, family pictures, other primary source documents, and mp3s of oral histories. This treasure box will vary from student to student, but might also include other materials such as pictures of great-grandma’s favorite chair, an mp3 of grandma singing great-grandpa’s favorite song, or a video clip of mom dancing as dad did when they were courting. Students will also explore the socio-political context of individuals on their family tree, including the music of the decade, prominent people and events of the era, as well as, the religious and entertainment outlets of the day.
When the AncestryDNA results are complete, they will first be delivered to me. I will organize and analyze data, so as to speak collectively of all of the students’ places of origin. I will then announce to the participants that the results have arrived and concurrently reserve a special room at a local restaurant for sharing the experience-and of course we will eat, which is something my students love to do. I did this results-sharing celebration in an AncestryDNA pilot last year and it was an unforgettable celebration. The reveal celebration will be recorded and some students are planning to invite family members.
After sharing and celebrating the AncestryDNA results, the students will still have three additional exercises to complete for the course. The first is a secondary source resource exercise which focuses on one of the primary countries of origin disclosed in their AncestryDNA results. Students will be asked to gather information about the country such as the meaning of the country’s name, write a brief history, and gather other data such as geographical location, physical topography, weather, physical and natural resources , demographics, education and educational systems, religion(s)/world views, government/socio-political realities, economics and socio-economic status, family structures and gender distinctions, language(s), dress and occasions, music, dance, drama, cuisine and diet, traditions and customs, and use of technology. Students will also be encouraged to listen to the national anthem, collect pictures of the country, and include anything else that interests them. Perhaps, even after the course, students will do this exercise for all of the countries disclosed in their AncestryDNA results.
The second exercise is the development of Servant-Leadership Initiative. As the students learn more about the condition of one of their countries of origin, it is my hope that they will give some thought to going back to that country or region to make some kind of contribution of value to “their” newly discovered people. I put this exercise in practice after discovering my own AncestryDNA results by traveling to West Africa where I taught English and a second language to over 400 school-aged students in two different primary schools, ranging in age from 6-12. Using my “Linguistic Scaffolding Model,” I had the privilege of making a contribution to “my” people” utilizing three languages: my language (English), the colonized language (French), and the indigenous language (Ewe). The Servant-Leadership Initiative will provide an opportunity for the students to design an initiative, merging the needs of their ancestral people, their gift and talents, and their service areas of interest. I would like for some or all of the students in the AncestryDNA Legacy Project, via a grant or at their own expense, to implement their Servant-Leadership Initiative. But for now, all they have to do is design it.
The final exercise is the completion of a simple post-project questionnaire. Et, voilà! C’est ça.
Since the students and I are on this journey of cultural legacy and identity exploration, it seemed fitting to have a journey theme song. So I wrote one. It is entitled, “My God, My Destiny.” The students and I went to the University recording studio and had a blast laying down tracks. We are not professionals, but it came out pretty well for our level of musical talent. We then went to the University television studio and created the visual for a music video. That was a double blast. Some sang, the rest of us just lip synced and moved to the music. We actually gave our DNA samples at the television studio and recorded it. In between the television experience and recording studio experience, of course, we ate. It was a pizza party with dessert benefits. I hope that you will, at some point, be directed where to go to see the journey music video. Keep in mind that we are just student musical amateurs wanting to create a cultural legacy journey memory together and to have a little fun along the way.
Just one last note. Throughout the project, students have been made aware that they, at any time, can utilize an “Opt-Out” provision that I have incorporated into the project experience. The experience is designed to be enriching and rewarding, void of pressure to disclose information deemed too personal. Students have been encouraged to participate as they are comfortable. I must say, none of the students in the pilot or in this phase of the project have used this provision. They are all fully engaged. Also, I have retained a licensed psychologist should students at any stage of the project need his assistance processing the cultural identity issues or for any other matter related to the experience. Again, we have not needed the assistance of the psychologist.
Needless to say, students are very excited about participating in the Ancestry Cultural Legacy project, as well as, appreciative of the opportunity to preserve their findings for their loved ones in this generation and generations for come. I am particularly grateful for the generous support of AncestryDNA for giving us this opportunity.
Join us in the journey by visiting the Ancestry Cultural Legacy Project here or meet some of the students participating below,