My name is Cassandra Wesley and my journey with Genesis began a lifetime ago, when I myself fled from an abusive relationship. I often tell people that my life began the day I walked through these doors and, had I not sought services when I did, I would not be who I am today. I have since come a long way, I ran a domestic violence shelter in Las Vegas, and now, I am honored to be returning to 75216, the very zip code I fled from, as Program Manager for Genesis’ New Benefit Thrift and Outreach Center in Southern Dallas.

In honor of Black History Month, I am sharing the story of my heritage. I was born on January 26, 1960 to Moses and Gloria Gray (both deceased). I grew up in West Dallas and moved to Oak Cliff while in elementary school. Oak Cliff was a white community at this time, so it was there that I experienced racism for the first time. In 1972, I began junior high school, and was bussed to an all-white school in West Oak Cliff. There were times the busses never came and myself and the other students would have to walk the 10-15 miles there or back. One day, I remember like yesterday, all of us bus kids – about 40 black children – were walking the route back home, the only way we knew to get home, that happened to be through an all-white neighborhood. All of a sudden, we were surrounded by police cars, to say we were frightened would be an understatement. Even as children, we knew that we did not belong, and the police followed us to ensure we made our way out of the neighborhood as if our very presence and existence was a criminal act. The day to day of experiencing racism, you just deal with it and keep pushing. That is what our families from generation to generation have instilled in us, keep fighting and keep pushing our way through.

When I turned 58, my daughter completed an Ancestry DNA kit that produced hits from women in the Northern United States. After thorough investigation, we discovered my grandfather had left my grandmother with whom he had eight children with, and started a new family up north yielding ten children that, oddly, he named after his first eight with my grandmother. Recently, we attended a family reunion in Austin with some of these newfound members, and I was surprised by the resemblance, we really looked alike aside from the blue/grey eyes and lighter complexions like my father and uncles. This is when we learned that I had an uncle nicknamed Red because he could pass as a white man, and my grandfather was also able to pass as a white man which was used to his advantage relocating in the 1930’s and 40’s and starting this new life. I also discovered a new-found cousin who had been tracing our bloodlines from the West to the East coasts, tracing our ancestors from 1860 to Benin, Africa.

I am the descendant of Africans enslaved from Benin, La Porte Du Non-Retour – The Door of No Return – on my father’s side of the family. To know this brought forth all of the suffering my family endured for over 400 years, from generation to generation. To know where you come from is more than I can understand. Someday, I would like to visit my family’s origin, but I am not yet ready to walk the ground my ancestors did, knowing the pain and suffering of my bloodlines.

My ancestors walked the walk of no return, with fear and hopelessness in their hearts, but what came of their trauma was doctors, lawyers, writers, social workers, judges, and mothers and fathers. I am grateful for their sacrifices and proud to honor their resiliency, my legacy is a legacy of strength. Survival is in my blood.