Four people from diverse backgrounds discover they aren’t as different as they thought
Ancestry
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Ancestry


We're not just a nation of immigrants; each of us is our own walking family tree. At a time when so much seems to keep us apart, developing cross-cultural understanding through shared connections is an increasingly vital way to bridge our societal gaps. It's almost impossible not to feel empathy when we discover that our worlds are actually intertwined.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., the renowned Harvard professor and genealogy expert, met with four people from different backgrounds to discuss how genealogy can connect us with people across cultures."There's a curious and ironic relationship between identifying your ancestral heritage, which you think might divide you from other people, but finding that it only ties you to other people," Gates says. "Each of our ancestors has a story to tell and it's our job to find them and give them a voice."

Gates connected with Crystal Gonzales, a Hispanic educator originally from New Mexico; Darnell Head, an educator and African American Detroit native; Michelle Mardsen, an African American art teacher from Pennsylvania; and Paula Shagin, a social worker from European Jewish descent. While their backgrounds were different, they all had one thing in common – a thirst to discover their family's origins.

Ancestry


Through family history research on Ancestry, Mardsen discovered there were four Civil War veterans in her family, three of whom were people of color. "Two different sides of the tree were in the same tent together," she says, adding that these details give her "a sense of grounding."

Head never had access to his family history. His background is so complex he doesn't even have either of his parents' surnames. Now that he's become a parent himself, he recognizes the importance of knowing where he came from and the value of sharing his family history with his two boys. "In the black community, it's important for us to understand the struggles of the past so that we, in a way, protect ourselves from ever having to experience that again," he says.

DNA testing also gives us more insight into our backgrounds and can reveal stories that are unknown even to our families. "For us, that was affirming some of the things we heard about," Gonzales says. She found out that her family DNA results were 35% Native American, and on her father's side, 26% from the Iberian Peninsula.

Ancestry

As the group learned more about each of their unique family origins, they came to realize one undeniable fact: "We're more alike than we are different," says Head.

After all, how can we be divided if we share the same universal human experience? People from every corner of the Earth now call themselves Americans. "Everyone's ancestors have something that they've overcome," Shagin says. "Everyone came to this country for a reason. Getting here wasn't always an easy route, and everyone has a story."

"Ultimately, we're Americans," Gates adds. "And beyond that, we're human beings."

When you know what your family went through, history truly becomes personal and not just words on a page you have to memorize for a test. They're real events that happened to real people. Their migratory patterns shaped who you are today. Above all, you learn that even though history had its ups and downs, your family got through it all, and you're here today to set the course for tomorrow's generations.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
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This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

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Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."