This is a story of a continual journey–one of self-discovery, dual-country living and helping others connect to self and to home in Africa.
If you’ve been around the African Ancestry family for a while, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard of Diallo Sumbry. He’s the Head of Travel and Partnerships and leads the African Ancestry Family Reunions. He also served as the co-architect of the Year of Return – the year-long 400-year commemoration of the first documented enslaved Africans’ arrival in the US through Ghana, which was used as a human cargo port. The Year of Return is a collective trip where Black people travel back to Africa.
In short, he’s kind of a big deal. And he does all of his work as a hybrid resident of the United States and Ghana.
Now you know a little bit about him, but do you know his story?
Diallo Sumbry has taken both the MatriClan and PatriClan Test here at African Ancestry, which traces the maternal and paternal lines respectively.
A few years ago, he felt that it was time to learn where he was truly from. As someone who was always integrated into African culture, travelling to various countries in Africa wasn’t new territory for him. In fact, no matter which country he went to, people always thought he was from there. “You look Nigerian” or “You look Cameroonian” weren’t foreign phrases for him to hear. Whenever he was in a particular country walking along the markets or on a bus, people are surprised to hear him speak – assuming he’s African-born, before hearing his American accent.
On August 19, 2017, his company, The Adinkra Group, hosted their annual concert and celebration called Birthright where he invited our co-founder, Dr. Gina Paige to publicly reveal to him and an audience of 1,000 people his African Ancestry.
Diallo admits that he grew up in a pan-African household – learning about Africa and African culture. “But even for somebody like me who grew up studying with some of the greatest historians, travelling to Africa everywhere, who had studied African culture and grew up in African culture, the fact remained that I still didn’t know. And I hate that I didn’t.”
“I knew where my father’s side of the family was from, I knew where my mother’s side is from, but I really didn’t know where on the continent they traced from and for somebody like me, who worked in and for Africa, it was important for me to know that.”
His father’s side, as far as he knew, called Phoenix City, Alabama home. His mother’s side made Trenton, New Jersey home. On both sides, he knew he was Black – that was undeniable. Naturally, that meant he knew that he had African roots, but he wanted to know more. Taking the tests helped him to go beneath the surface of who he is beyond what his complexion and features already told him.
Strong anticipation grew as he looked forward to learning more about who he was. “I’m about to connect the dots across the Atlantic Ocean,” he said to the audience as they awaited the answers to his lineage.
“It’s the part of my life that will help to complete the circle.”
He didn’t have any expectation when taking the test. He says he didn’t try to rack his brain guessing what the results would be – instead he waited patiently and let the test do the talking. And it had something marvelous to say:
Diallo Sumbry's test concluded that on his maternal side, he is of the Fulani people of Modern-Day Nigeria. On his paternal side, he is of the Ateke people of Gabon.
What Did His Results Mean?
“When they said Fulani, although I hadn’t anticipated it, I wasn’t surprised either. For one, the name that I’ve had since I was born: Diallo, is a Fulani name. I think my family probably had some suspicion that it would be modern-day Nigeria before the test. It kind of made sense to me. Actually, it really made sense because in a lot of the countries that I travelled to, Fulani people are there and they were always telling me that I look like them.”
Africa wasn’t a distant topic, but a huge part of growing up: African-focused traditions, travel to Africa, and more. “My mom really was the one who introduced all of her kids to Africa.”
“I had already grown up in African culture, understanding that I’m African and that I’m a descendant of Africa. I understood that. But knowing from where through African Ancestry, it has helped me complete my understanding. There’s a certain amount of pride, you know. There’s a certain amount of clarity that you have when you know that.”
Both of Diallo’s parents are still living. He notes that he loves that he had the opportunity to be able to share that with them and give that gift to both sides of his family. Both parents were at his event waiting to hear the results, too.
“For me, this is not just a gift for myself. It’s a gift for my children. It’s a gift for my family.”
Why African Ancestry?
Why African Ancestry over other well-known DNA tests? Diallo says: “It really wasn’t a choice.” Of course, not literally but he made it clear that it was a no-brainer to choose African Ancestry.
“For all of the reason why I’m working with African Ancestry are the reasons that led me to choose African Ancestry. One Gina Paige was a friend who has a Black-owned company – that's important. Then, they had a clear policy about what they did with the DNA. And unlike with the results of other companies, I didn’t need to know the percentage of my African lineage. I mean, you look at a picture of me and I look smack out of Africa, born in Africa. I knew I was that and I knew that I would be coming from West Africa. But you know, there are a lot of countries in West Africa. It’s a lot of ethnic groups. And for me, that [general] information wouldn’t have completed anything for me. I would have been supporting a European-owned company who would do God knows what with my DNA.”
“It was important for me to stay Black-owned and to find out the information I wanted to know.”
Diallo has taken his results and used it to power his life’s work.
“Finding my tribe helped me close the gap with regards finding my life’s purpose. It helped me to decide that I would spend the rest of my life connecting African People of the Diaspora with the African Continent. In fact, we began our Birthright Journeys in tandem with finding out my ancestry and it was important for us to include African Ancestry tests that allowed others to discover their roots and get revealed on the continent of Africa. So, finding out my roots helped me to make the decision to spend more time on the continent.”
The Adinkra Group, which he founded in 2003, is purposed to empower people in the Diaspora to connect and explore Africa. Their mission is “to help African people globally, establish a direct connection with Africa to celebrate and build upon our shared ancestral heritage through art, education, cultural immersion and small business development and investment.”
With his D.C. based organization The Adinkra Group, there are a few grand parts to the organization that serves the community in various ways.
With his brother, Mahiri Keita, he co-founded Farafina Kan West Intergenerational West African Dance Company, which has performed and provided cultural dance and dance experiences worldwide for more than 17 years. They’ve taught children and adults about cultural dance, music and instruments and have helped to bring a sense of cultural identity to many individuals. Lessons help students connect to their roots and join in on the fun.
A large component is helping people to take culturally-driven trips back to Africa, led by he and his team. He’d recently began to orchestrate the trips shortly before finding out his results on 2017. The results, however, inspired his work and he made the trips a primary part of his work and life – eventually partnering with Gina and African Ancestry to help family members (the over a million folks who have taken a test with the company) travel home to Africa with his Birthright Journeys.
Now, he practically lives there – at least more than he lives here in Washington, D.C. He spends most of his time in Ghana, but travels throughout the continent. “I definitely spend more time in Africa now!”
For those who do decide to travel to Africa on a Birthright Journey, they won’t want to miss the Back2Africa Festival, which he’s been hosting in Ghana since 2018 in conjunction with the Ghana Tourism Authority. “The work we’re doing makes Africa feel closer,” says Diallo, the African-American Tourism Ambassador in Ghana. Clearly, he holds a lot of culturally significant titles!
In 2019, The Adinkra Group brought 100+ Black people from the DMV including members of Farafina Kan and Raheem DeVaughn’s CrossRhodes on the Back2Africa Tour. Together, they visited Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast – performing, connecting and celebrating the culture. D.C.’s Backyard Band headlined the tour and brought some D.C. Native go-go music with them to share with the audience.
He’d use the trip in conjunction with the NAACP where they brought 250+ people on one trip and revealed 80+ people at the Cape Coast Dungeon. Check out this Jamestown to Jamestown event.
“I move and walk around with a lot more confidence. Especially living in and working in Africa, when people ask, you know, ‘where are you from?’ I can say Trenton, New Jersey, or D.C. and then I can also say where my family is from. It gives me a way to explain. And for some people, it just helps it make sense. A lot of people wonder ‘why are you living in Africa?’ or ‘Why are you promoting Ghana?’ or ‘Why are you promoting Africa to the Black people in America if you’re not from Africa?’”
His identity can now directly trace to some part of Africa. He is African, by bloodline. It impacts him everyday and allows him an even deeper way to explain when people come with those questions.
When he is in D.C., though, you can likely find him at the Adinkra Studios or planning for the Birthright Concert. “Birthright has become [an event] where every group in D.C., regardless of spiritual system, could come through and appreciate Black culture. [This is] an intergenerational family event where people take the night on the town and get fly,” Diallo told The Washington Informer.
“It helped me to extend my own personal mission because a part of my personal mission is to connect people of the African Diaspora to the African continent. I believe that every person of African descent should visit the continent at least once and tracing their lineage provided another avenue to encourage that. I suggest people visit where their ancestry comes from.”
“It’s nothing to it, but to do it.”
Diallo shares that it’s so important to trace your lineage. There’s only one way to find out about your lineage – to trace it. “When you start talking about paternal tests, it gives us an opportunity to have a conversation about our history.”
It’s important for everyone to know, especially men. “I think for Black men who may have estranged relationships with their fathers, reminding them of this unbreakable connection can help to heal the individual and help them connect with their father’s DNA and family.
He shares from his own experience:
“I didn’t grow up with my dad, but we have a strong relationship now. I do believe that me doing that test, finding out and sharing it has helped our relationships. Like knowing that we come from something beyond my circumstances and the circumstances of our life just has added deeper meaning and a deeper connection for us”
Why the Why (Y)ou Matter campaign?
In short, because it’s what he believes in – everything that his life’s work is for. And as someone who hold a Y Chromosome, he sees the importance.
“Men are probably less likely to do things like this. I don’t know if it’s just a makeup of men – you know, when it comes to doing things a little more macho, or things less emotionally involved but I think it’s good for men to do. It’s good for them to connect with their ancestry and do things that men might not normally be credited for doing or be looked to to do.
There’s so much you gain from taking an African Ancestry DNA test.
“Men may begin to implement the results, especially with their sons. We come from Kings, and once you know where you’re from, it gives you something else to talk to your son (and their friends) about. It gives you lineage. It helps you look at yourself beyond ‘me’.”
“The test concretized everything. Now that I know who I am, I know where we come from, and I’m able to actually look at character traits of my ethnic group and others. I can see the differences. I can see the similarities in what I do.”
The Why (Y)ou Matter Campaign will continue through Father’s Day 2022. African Ancestry’s goal is help 2,022 people with Y Chromosomes (born-male) to take a PatriClan or MatriClan test and trace their lineage through African Ancestry. Take Diallo’s lead and grab your test now!
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