BEYOND THE FLAG: The African in my American
Written by Stephanie Renee on January 31, 2017
According to my AncestryDNA test, about 9% of my total genetic content can be linked to a distant Ghanaian relative. Not a big number, true, but a tangible connection to a place and people that is worthy of exploration. And thanks to a generous invitation from the Israeli Consulate of Ghana and Liberia, I was given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to set foot on this ancestral soil and better understand the paths that led me to my present: as a journalist, educator and human being.
On our delegation’s first full day in Ghana, we loaded into a minivan and set off for Cape Coast. Located about two hours outside of Accra, the nation’s capital, Cape Coast is part of a string of small coastal areas where “castles” were erected for the sole purpose of becoming transport stations for enslaved Africans and temporary housing for those Europeans who were on the selling side of the transaction.
As someone who is an empath, very sensitive to spiritual energy that resides in people and spaces, I felt a hush rush over me the minute I stepped through the entrance gate. It was obvious that there are ancestors whose essences continue to hover over this place, waiting to greet those of us who long to better understand our connection to this painful history.
One of the things that struck me most as I continued with our group tour was the sound of the waves splashing just across the far wall. I was filled with a mournful sense of how painful it must have been for those ancestors, huddled into crowded fetid holding cells for weeks or months at a time, to be able to hear those waves crashing and be tortured by the beauty of the sound. I entered the male dungeon because I had to see it and experience it, but I couldn’t force myself to repeat the exercise in the female equivalent. Once was enough.
In the video below, you will hear our guide describe the very beginnings of how the enslaved were transported to Cape Coast, and how this place was designed to break the human spirit and prepare the captives for transport. While it is unlikely that any of my direct ancestors were brought to this particular site, I will forever feel bonded to those who passed through its Door of No Return. 9% of my DNA may seem like a small number, but it represents an eternal connection to those who suffered and endured, in order for me to one day return and give thanks.