kinkofa x Greenwood Ave. Magazine

updated on 17 July 2024
kinkofa founders featured in Greenwood Ave. Magazine Issue No. 3 - The Black Tech Edition
kinkofa founders featured in Greenwood Ave. Magazine Issue No. 3 - The Black Tech Edition

"Picture this: It’s 2020 in Dallas, Texas. You’re stuck inside, and the lines between work and home life have all but disappeared. You hop into a room on Clubhouse, looking for any form of human connection. You’re now in a group with others who share your interest in genealogy. Not only do you meet someone in Chicago researching the same surnames and small towns, but you discover that this person is, in fact, your long-lost cousin. Marvel couldn’t script a better origin story.

While that sounds like the beginning of the latest Netflix dramedy, this was the real-life genesis of kinkofa, a digital family history platform specifically for Black folx.

Co-founders Jourdan Brunson and Tameshia Rudd-Ridge used their online group to pilot a database for several months. Those findings led them to create a secret Google document called #OperationWakanda. This master plan housed a robust list of blindspots, critiques, and potential changes for everything wrong with genealogy. Out of those frustrations, kinkofa was born.

This new “Wakanda” for genealogy was built to literally go get your kinfolk. “There is a Ghanaian language system called Adinkra,” Rudd-Ridge explains. “Sankofa is one of the proverbs in that system.” Meshia affectionately describes it as the “look back at it” proverb, meaning it is ok to learn from the past to move forward. The name is a mix of Ko- meaning “go,” Fa- meaning “get” and Kin- from the term “kinfolk.” 

Jourdan started his tech career early on with rideshare giant, Lyft, but has always had a passion for family history. However, Meshia’s first tech journey began accidentally. “I actually wanted to be Secretary of State of the U.S.,” says Rudd-Ridge. While working for the First Lady of Rwanda's Office & Foundation, she noticed the energy around young entrepreneurs starting tech businesses and generating massive impact quickly. She joined the founding team of a travel startup to help millennial Black travelers connect authentically with the African continent. Their combined experience and shared desire to connect others to their roots became the seeds for their venture.

For the co-founders, the existing tech issues range from the outdated nature of platforms like Ancestry and 23&Me to the complexity of history itself. “Besides being outdated, it’s not prescriptive to any group of people,” shares Brunson. “Seeking out your roots as a Black person is a different experience than other groups.” In the United States, folks of European descent can trace their history back to 1790 via the census. “Before 1870, many Black people in the U.S. were not listed on the census because they were not considered people in the eyes of the law.”

“Living in a place like Rwanda and Tulsa; places that have undergone mass tragedy,” says Rudd-Ridge, “Just knowing who you are and having a sense of self is tied up into that. I think every human deserves to know who they are in full.”

Until now, the genealogy space has been primarily marketed to retired or older people. By creating an engaging, collaborative, and design-minded platform, they aim to inspire a younger audience. Brunson and Rudd-Ridge believe that family history is intergenerational and are creating a tool that reflects that.

“Now that teaching of African American History is being considered controversial, there is a possibility that Black History could be erased,” Meshia warns. Brunson and Rudd-Ridge recognize that while their platform can have a significant impact, they are standing on the shoulders of giants.

One could not speak of preserving Black family history and a genealogy and not mention Eddie Faye Gates, an oral historian and author who worked tirelessly to chronicle the stories of the survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. “We honor the diligence of those who’ve kept the history alive,” said Brunson.

“They challenge us to think about how we can not just focus on preserving the past, but also preserving the stories of today so that we don’t have those gaps 50,100 or even 10 years from now.”


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