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Ellis Island

25 September 2022


Yesterday I had a memory of a time I was in elementary school. The project was to build out our family tree. The first assignment to help us do this was to locate our family member who arrived to America at Ellis Island. There was public record of this as each member signed a particular book upon entry. My teacher gave all of us students the Ellis Island website to locate our family member. I was excited and looked forward to learning more about my family.


That evening when I worked on the assignment, I continued to follow the instructions as provided by the teacher to find my family member but would get no results. I solicited the help of my mom, and we both tried different searches on the site for hours but garnered the same empty results.


The next day I went to the teacher and shared with them that my mom and I both tried, and our searches came up empty. I was consistently an honor roll student so providing substandard work, let alone incomplete work was not an option for me, therefore facing this outcome was extremely frustrating. I needed help. The teacher told me that the results were there, I just need to refine my search, keep looking and try again. What I took from this-I need to work harder.


When I got home, my mom and I searched again. Same results. After trying and trying my mom asked the question, "Where is Ellis Island?" I didn't know. We did a search for it (I think Ask Jeeves was the search engine back then that we used, I don’t remember if google was around) and saw that Ellis Island was in New York. As we looked at a map of America, my mom then said, "Wait, we didn’t come into the country this way. Our people entered the country on a different boat". My mom and I decided to take the assignment in a different direction that was true to us.


The next day I had to present to the class my findings from the Ellis Island assignment. I was nervous that I would be marked down for not completing the assignment, but just decided to go with what was true. I share to the class, "I was not able to locate any of my family through the Ellis Island website, because my family did not come in that way. My family members were African slaves, and entered the country imprisoned on a slave ship into the Southern states in America." I don't remember any comments or questions from my White teacher and majority White classmates. In this moment I was reminded that I was Black.


When this memory popped into my mind yesterday, I started to feel IMMENSE anger. While I hold no anger towards my teacher (they later went on to be a big supporter of me), it is reflective of so many of the experiences in my life. Always thinking or being told that I am wrong or doing things the wrong way. Always thinking that if I work harder, then maybe, just maybe, I can get it right. Spinning my wheels, burning myself out in an environment that was never designed for me to be successful in let alone be a functioning respected member of. No wonder I feel like I'm never enough and always have "something to prove".


I currently am on a journey of healing to discover who I am, learn truth, and unlearn so much of what is untrue in me in order to truly be free. My sister set up an ancestry.com account that showed us a break down of our heritage which is really cool! My therapist gave me the assignment to make a cultural dish from my African heritage-the heritage BEFORE slavery. He told me that a critical step in my recovery is to get more connected with my African roots. Since Nigerian was at the top of my genetic make-up according to the ancestry results, I made Peanut Soup and Fufu. It came out really good!


It's painful and not easy but I am really committed to my own healing and embracing who I truly am- the Kristin BEFORE the world got to her.


Peanut Soup, rice and fufu

My Ancestry.com results

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