“Your AncestryDNA results are in!”
That was the exuberant text in the subject line of an email I recently received from Ancestry.com. You’d think I would click the link right away to see where my people are from.
After all, I’d done a family “roots” search on my father’s side all the way back to the 1870 Census. However, beyond that point is what genealogists refer to as “The Wall” that African Americans often hit when it comes to being able to unearth additional data about our families. That “wall” is, of course, the time period of slavery, where records on us as a people – if they were kept at all – were incomplete and unreliable, and now, mostly unavailable.
But I let a whole week pass by before I finally logged in to the site to get my DNA results. Why was I so hesitant? Worse-case fear – no DNA match for me could be found (alien DNA?) or best-case scenario – I was indeed from Wakandan blood!
But seriously, my slow response was in sharp contrast to my husband’s, whom I had bought a DNA kit as a Christmas present. “You’re going to be the guinea pig,” I said to him when he opened his present, meaning I wanted him to be the first to take the test and get his results before I took the plunge.
The heavily spice-scented air grabs you by the throat as soon as you enter the Koto Fried Pepper Sauce warehouse on the northern edge of Fredericksburg, Va.
The source of that cough-inducing aroma is wafting from three large pots of deep red sauce bubbling at the back of thewarehouse and being tended by Christopher Bickersteth.
Accountant by day, and pepper sauce maker at the warehouse most evenings and weekends, Bickersteth, a native of Sierra Leone, hopes to turn a West African staple into a hot business commodity – one jar at a time.
According to the bit of history on its jar, the pepper sauce is common among the Kroo people, originally from Liberia and settled into Sierra Leone during the 19th century in an area called Krootown, affectionately called Koto by its inhabitants. The fried pepper sauce, which can be used as a seasoning or a marinade, is based on a recipe common among the Kroo and passed down from generation to generation.
Bickersteth has taken on the tradition, not so much out of a sense of cultural pride, but out of frustration in trying to find a sauce with that just-right mix of peppers, onions, fish and spices. “At lot of people prepare it at home. But, it does smell up the whole house,” he admits. “So when people see it in the stores, it’s just easier to buy it. But what I was seeing in the stores just wasn’t done well and the packaging was awful. I thought I could do better than that.”
Dian Holton is a firm believer in putting oneself out there and seeing what manifests. One thing can lead to another, can lead to designing sneakers under the Nike brand.
Just how did that happen?
“I was always interested in designing and marketing sportswear, especially over the past 10 years,” she says. “I thought it could be fun, interesting and challenging, especially when applying color.”
Holton is no stranger to the use of color, having led a colorful career that has led from an internship at USA Today to a graphic artist/illustrator position at the Virginia Pilot Ledger newspaper, to her current position as Deputy Art Director at AARP headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Somewhere in all those connections and her active involvement in myriad art and design communities along the way, Holton was tapped this year, along with four other women, to design footwear for Sneaker Lab. Sneaker Lab bills itself as “a small group of designers, technologists, and sneaker freaks who are always looking for new ways to experiment and make shoes more meaningful.”