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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on Losing His Mother, the Heirloom He Adores Most, and How Staying Connected to Loved Ones and Ancestors Makes Us Stronger

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an American treasure.  The first time we met was when I interviewed him for “The Reflection Effect,” an essay I wrote for O, the Oprah Magazine about the power of nostalgia to drive happiness and build resilience after loss.  As host of the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, Professor Gates steadfastly believes embracing the past has the life-altering capacity to bring enormous joy.
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Discover and Celebrate Your Ancestral Roots

It wasn’t too long ago that Don Lemon, anchor of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, went on an emotional journey to Africa to learn his ancestral history. It was a heartening experience, one that seemed wholly impossible to Lemon before it began. The newsman writing, “I am often envious of my friends who can recite stories about ancestors that have been handed down through generations. I can’t do that. As a descendant of slavery in America, that hasn’t felt possible for me.”

That was until Lemon got DNA testing. Lemon was then able to trace his family tree to Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Congo, and the knowledge, he says, was transformative. After reading an advance copy of my new book Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive (April 12, 2016), Lemon told me, “I didn’t know these details until recently and the discovery has driven me to appreciate those I love and those I’ve lost even more.”

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