Do You Know?

Special to Informer | 3/1/2013, 7 p.m.

In 2003, Gina Paige co-founded African Ancestry, and in doing so, pioneered a new way of tracing African lineages using genetics. As the leading Black female authority on DNA-based African ancestry tracing, Paige travels the globe collecting experiences and sharing insights that help people better understand who they are in today's world. As African Ancestry celebrates its 10th anniversary, Paige shares her collected wisdoms that remind us of the rich influences Africa has in our lives today.

I was once interviewed by a mainstream women's publication about my role as the President and Co-founder of AfricanAncestry.com. As I shared my experience through a Black lens, the frustrated interviewer - a White woman - finally asked, "But what about the fact that you're a woman?" It had never occurred to me that the challenges I faced resulted from my being a WOMAN any more than my being Black. For African-American women, race and gender are beautifully intertwined. With that, I think this Women's History Month is the perfect time to explore the distinct qualities of our ancestral mothers who have influenced today's Black businesswomen like myself.

Did you know that in our history, most West African societies were matrilineal, meaning that they were led by women? African women were queens, chiefs, warriors, political leaders and business leaders. These were not just titles, but active roles in which women owned land that generated tax revenue, set the laws of the nation, led armies, and set the education system. These roles required innovation, tenacity, networking, coalition-building, and hard work. All of these skills come naturally to Black women.

Did you know that while women are underrepresented among business owners, women-owned businesses contribute significantly to our economy? When Maggie Lena Walker became the first woman to charter a bank in the U.S in 1902, St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, in Richmond, Virginia, she may have been influenced by the DNA and social mores of the Egbe women in Nigeria. These women developed the nation's trade and market system, setting taxes and the terms of trade.

Did you know that fewer than 2 percent of American venture capitalists are African American? As the co-founder of Fairview Capital, a private equity "fund of funds," in Hartford, Connecticut. JoAnn H. Price has invested in the success of entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. since 1994. Her professional endeavors are firmly rooted in her genetics. As a matrilineal descendant of the Bamileke people, she hails from women who are the leaders of women's entrepreneurship in Cameroon both formally and informally.

Did you know that Black women comprise about 14 percent of all Black farmers in the U.S.? Historically, Kikuyu women in Kenya were the major food producers of that country. They had authority over how land was to be used and cultivated. Alabama organic farmer Rose Hill develops and empowers women farmer/entrepreneurs through her organization, Women and Youth in Agriculture, and sets an example by supplying produce to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Did you know that fewer than 1 percent of all small businesses are Black woman-owned? Bridewealth often provided African women with a source of income that they controlled, thus serving as an investment in their economic futures. The business model created by Nadine Thompson, founder of Soul Purpose in Exeter, NH empowers women to pursue financial success through beauty. Perhaps Nadine's warm spirit reflects the Sande Society in Sierra Leone, which protects the ideals of the beauty of Mende women.

Did you know fewer than 1 percent of Internet startups are founded by African Americans? Queen Nzinga was a brilliant military strategist who successfully fought the expansion of Portuguese colonialism in Angola. Angela Benton in Silicon Valley is a present-day warrior queen for Blacks and women in technology through her NewME accelerator, preparing those groups for entrepreneurial success in today's new economy.

A Black woman in America is often expected to be a woman first and Black second, as if she has a choice between the two. As demonstrated by the women I've written about here and the many women who you know, we are at our best when we are both. An entrepreneurial spirit has been inherent within us for centuries, whether we realize it or not. So if you've ever thought about starting a business, recommending a process improvement at work, or pursuing a leadership role in your community ... Do it. It's in your DNA!

For more information, please contact us at:doyouknow@africanancestry.com or 202-723-0900