This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle
By Donald James
February is Black History Month, a time when the achievement and history of Black people, events, and organizations are recognized through dedicated programs and celebrations of milestones and legacies shaping the Black experience in America for 400-plus years. Yet, according to Keith Lester, a seasoned researcher and historian of the African Diaspora, every day is Black history, and every Black family has a history that needs to be discovered and documented.
Lester is the founder, president, and CEO of Serengeti Historical Associates (SHA), a South Carolina-based research genealogy organization helping Black families learn more about their histories and family history makers.
“We employ all the tools that we have at our disposal to trace and research the history and linage of African American families,” says Lester, a retired industrial engineer who grew up in New Jersey. “What we find is that much of their history is not lost but is misidentified. However, we at Serengeti Historical Associates attempt to find the straight lines back into history, even if that history links to other countries.”
According to Lester, his organization has been instrumental in providing detailed histories and family trees for foundational support to family reunions. In addition, SHA is equipped to research and provide historical content to authors, filmmakers, documentarians, Black history projects, and any person or organization requiring factual information about the African Diaspora in America and other sectors of the world.
Lester said SHA is providing research services on an upcoming project about Jamil Al-Amin formerly known as H. Rap Brown, who in the 1960s was a prominent Black Power leader having both chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served as a minister in the Black Panther Party. Lester and SHA, through a verbal non-disclosure agreement, are the principal consultants for researching a huge literary project about the life and times of a famous African American whose family roots date to the early 1700s.
Under Lester’s leadership, SHA is also actively developing in-person and online programming that addresses an array of Black history topics no longer taught in schools or have been weakened.
“Many of the historical narratives that are taught in schools these days don’t pass the commonsense test,” Lester says. “What I find, even within our Black communities, is the lack of information known about Black history, especially by school-age children. To a certain extent, they know about the icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and a few others. They don’t know a whole lot about Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, J.A. Rogers, Carter G. Woodson, and many others.”
Lester adds that sometimes the focus of Black accomplishments is on those in entertainment and sports.
“Rarely do we talk extensively about Black scholars, scientists, doctors, inventors, or those activists trying to advance the Black culture in a much more positive direction,” says Lester.
Lester believes if school systems and teachers are not going to be permitted to teach Black children about their history and cultures, then it is incumbent upon parents, grandparents, and other stakeholders to teach and provide the tools and platforms for Black children to think critically and search their histories across broad spectrums.
When SHA’s services are used to research Black families, organizations, and other Black milestones and legacies in history, Lester says his organization provides comprehensive written reports to include, when possible, actual historical documents discovered such as copies of census records, court records, armed forces registrations, marriage certificates, birth certificates, death records, Freedman Bank records, voting records, and other documentation not easily found. In many instances, SHA provides vintage photographs of the families’ ancestors.
“Serengeti Historical Associates’ mission is to provide the highest level of accuracy and honesty to our clients in deciphering the long-obscured history of the members of the African Diaspora,” says Lester.
Accuracy and credible are keywords for Lester and Serengeti Historical Associates.
“I want to make sure that our information is irrefutable and that every piece of information that we trace, research and find, we can hang our hat on as factual,” Lester said. “It’s imperative to be 100% sure of the accuracy and the historical context of what we provide to those using our services.”
Lester is also writing two books. Both publications will be published and released in 2022 by IM Publishing. The first book is Deconstructing Race: Fear of A Critical Thinking Paradigm. The book, says Lester, explores the shortcomings of America’s education system and what it needs to do to become an equitable learning system for Black Americans. Lester’s other book, The Shadow of the Tree, chronicles his own family – the Lester-Dukes – and the family’s 300-year history that Lester researched and documented.
According to Lester, now more than ever, it’s crucial that Black people and families know and document their histories.
“We need to regain our psychological selves because we belong and we have value,” says Lester. “We need to know about our ancestors and what was going on during their lifetimes so we understand better what’s going on now and how to move forward. We have to stop accepting the status quo in our lives and history.”
For more information about Serengeti Historical Associates, email Keith Lester and SHA at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for SHA’s reconfigured website to be launched in March 2022.