New initiative allows Black teens to discover their ancestral links to Africa
Some Mercer County students will be a part of the inaugural class of the African Link Initiative – a birthright trip to Ghana.
Xavier Penn is an eighth grader at Melvin H. Kreps Middle School in East Windsor who will be participating in the program.
“We’re finally learning our history that we never knew,” he says.
Penn says that he was excited to be nominated for the program and has a hope of deepening his knowledge of Black history beyond slavery.
“As an African American, you’re not given as much access to African history as there should be,” he says.
The African Link Initiative is a three-part program that was launched in January with the goal of transforming the way African American teens experience the world and the way they view themselves.
"This program is intended for kids between eighth grade and 12th grade, that's who's currently enrolled in our program,” says Shazel Muhammad-Neain, who is with the initiative. “However, we intend to be able to have kids from sixth grade to 12th grade because what we know is that sixth grade is around those formative years of identity."
The initiative is partnering with AfricanAncestry.com. The first part of the birthright program will include an African ancestry test, tracing the participants’ lineage back to Africa.
"We are the only group of people as African Americans, let's say or Afro-Caribbean's, that can't point to a country of origin,” says AfricanAncestry.com CEO and co-founder Dr. Gina Paige.
The African Link Initiative wants to change that. Part two of the program will include workshops, and part three will include a teen summit where students can discuss current events in the Black community.
“Our students will get to unpack all types of topics, for example, the Black economy,” Muhammad-Neain says.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the setting of the curriculum to all-virtual, the shift has allowed for the program to extend its reach past students in New Jersey, like in the case of Ifa Tella-Swan, a ninth grader from Bethesda, Maryland.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know myself and my history more and I’m looking forward to going to Ghana,” she says.
That trip to Ghana was initially planned for this summer but has been pushed back to the summer of 2022 because of the pandemic. The students are scheduled to receive their test results from the ancestry test this spring.