She had always identified as mixed-race. Her DNA results changed that.
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AncestryDNA

When Shayna Watson decided to get an AncestryDNA test to reveal her ancestry on her 30th birthday, she had a certain idea of what the results would look like.

"I expected to see African, I expected to see a little bit of European, just based on colonization, and I definitely expected to see at least a little Native American," she says.

Watson had grown up with stories of her partial Native American heritage. In fact, her father had proudly shown her photographs of her grandmother on a Pequot reservation.  


When Watson was asked, frequently, throughout her childhood and adulthood, "What are you mixed with?" in regards to her distinctive curly hair, she had responded with "Native American" — although she had never known for sure.

Image courtesy of Shayna Watson.

"I get my ancestry results back and there's not even a drop of Native American," she says.

"It was a shock."

Immediately, she took a screenshot of the results and sent them to her mother, followed only by a question mark. Questions initially popped into her head — like "Am I adopted?" "Is my dad really my dad?" But that wasn’t it. She wasn't adopted. And her dad was her dad. There was just more to the story.

Screenshot of AncestryDNA results via Shayna Watson.

"It made everybody kind of stop and recognize that a lot of the oral history that we know in our family may not be true," she explains. "It opened up this conversation of whether my grandma was passing as Native American at the time."

That discovery led Watson to some difficult questions about her family's history. Had her grandmother been told the same stories she had? Or did she have to downplay her African heritage because of anti-black sentiment she faced?

Watson continues, "I think what the DNA test did that was great for me and my family was that it kind of allowed a truth to be told without people having to tell the truth."

Screenshot of AncestryDNA map results via Shayna Watson.

The experience has even inspired Watson's mom to take her own AncestryDNA test, and she is eagerly awaiting the results.

In addition to revealing her family’s past, the AncestryDNA test results helped Watson better understand how her ancestry can inform her identity.

Once the initial shock of not having any Native American heritage died down a little, Watson was able to really process her results, which showed that 73% of her ancestors came from the continent of Africa and 25% came from Europe, mostly Scandinavian regions.

"I was kind of pleasantly surprised with the percentage African-American that was there," she says. "With us black Americans, it's not an easy narrative to come back and see such a large percentage of European because, for a lot of us, we know what that means. We know the tough history behind that."

Seeing such a large African percentage, she felt relief.

Finding out her family history and where they came from, she says, has given her more confidence in her identity as a black woman. Knowing that some of the unique physical characteristics she receives compliments on are, in fact, a result of her African ancestry has become a source of pride for her.

Image courtesy of Shayna Watson.

"There was a lot of times when I was growing up that I kind of clung to this idea that I was mixed with a bunch of things and I used that to set myself apart a little bit," she says.

"Now when people ask if I am mixed with something, I say 'no,'" Watson says.

"Hearing that question again as an adult," she wrote in her article for The Root, "especially now — when I know the legacy of squeezing into spaces in order to exist that has come out in my history — has really shifted the way I view beauty and blackness."

Watson is a writer by career, and while telling her story to others, she found it resonated with a lot of people. So, she decided to write about her experiences of digging into her ancestry in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.  

"I think for those of us that are labelled as minorities in this country, it's a difficult place to find where you fit in," Watson says. "What this allowed me to do was decide for myself — even though the results came back with six different places I was connected to — it allowed me to decide where I wanted to identify."

For her birthday this past year, Watson took a vacation to Africa and spent a lot of time exploring Morocco.

Watson on her trip in Morocco. Image courtesy of Shayna Watson.

"That trip … it definitely felt different, just knowing that such a huge percentage of me was from where I was standing," she says. "And it definitely makes me want to go back and visit Nigeria and Congo and all of the places that showed up on my results that I never knew I had a direct connection to without doing this test."

Watson says that she recommends that other people take the test too even if they think that they know what the test will show.  

"There are so many things in your ancestry that  your  family may never know to tell you ... It lets you get a part of [your past] that you could never get just from talking to people and family members," she says. "Even if you think that you know, and even if every story going back in your family is from a certain place, I would still suggest doing it because we are such a melting pot and it's a beautiful thing."

Did you know? April 25 is DNA Day. Have you celebrated your heritage today?

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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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."