Local Youth Attend Summer Roots Camp

Local Youth Attend Summer “Roots” Camp

The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation recently concluded a unique summer camp experience in Annapolis, Maryland that introduced area young people to the idea of exploring their own family “roots.” The Foundation developed and sponsored the first-time program with contributed funds from Verizon and Associate Black Charities’ Compassion Capital Program.

The Summer Roots Camp involved youth, ages 12 to 14, from the Annapolis Boys and Girls Club who spent six consecutive Tuesdays and Fridays with Foundation staff, learning research skills in the classroom and applying those skills on-line, searching databases such as The Capital Gazette’s CapitalOnline, using genealogy sources such as, writing letters of inquiry to cities and towns of lost ancestors, and querying living family members. Sessions included hearing a recent taped oral interview of an octogenarian by Foundation staffer Ann E.Calvin, and watching the movie Roots. All classes were held at Sojourner-Douglass College and at the Kinte-Haley Foundation’s computer lab at its administrative offices in Annapolis.

In addition, camp participants took several field trips organized by the Foundation. These included a walking tour of downtown Annapolis with Legacy Promotions and a tour of the Banneker-Douglass Museum (providing an African-American focus to the colonial capital), plus visits to the Annapolis public library, the Maryland Law Library’s genealogy center, and the Historic Annapolis Foundation’s archaeology lab. At the archaeology lab, students delighted in handling recovered artifacts from several nearby African-American sites. The library presentations generated such enthusiasm that students did not want to leave. The Stanton Center’s re-created classroom of the early African-American school and an old photograph collection of former students mesmerized Camp participants. Indeed, most of these field trips had been a first-time experience for them. In the process, they learned about local African-American ancestors who prevailed through slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation, and who helped build their country and fight its wars.

White gloves and quill pens. Working with quill pens and ink, “Roots” Camp students tried their hand at writing in the often difficult-to-read but eloquent script of the 18th century. Wearing white gloves used by archivists, they pulled fragile 300-year-old manuscripts from the shelves of the State Law Library’s Rare Book Room, encouraged by Director Mike Miller to peruse and explore. Students also learned how to create their own research filing systems, how to ask questions of grandparents and other family members, how to conduct on-line research, compose letters of inquiry, and read and understand census records.

Success and surprises. Judith Cabral, creator and administrator of the “Roots” Camp, found her own deep interest in genealogy contagious among her young charges. “One young man discovered he had relatives in a certain part of Virginia, then discovered a town filled with people using his last name and is excited about the strong possibility that they may be related to him.” Cabral noted another participant, frustrated by a research roadblock, got help from another who learned that she was distantly related to him, and was able to find his great-great-grandmother buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery nearby. “He was just elated,” she said. In the short time they had, some were able to trace relatives to the 19th century, including one who discovered a great-great-great-grandmother born in the 1830s.

Cabral also found surprises. “Several students really didn’t know much about their family background beyond their parents’ generation. They seemed to know less about their grandparents or great-grandparents than I did when I was their age. Perhaps it’s a sign of our times.”

Whether multi-generation family interaction is a victim of modern insular suburban life or simply has gone out of fashion, the Kinte-Haley Foundation’s Summer “Roots” Camp has changed that for its eight young participants. Embarked on a journey to explore their own family roots, they have begun to ask “why,” and are discovering that with the right tools they can begin to find answers. Looking back over the six-week program, Cabral notes, “They are excited about pursuing all leads they are finding. And, I believe they do have a better sense of who they are.”