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Rick Kittles Biography

Concocted African Ancestry, Directed Prostate Cancer Study, Callers Jammed Howard Switchboard, Attracted Celebrity Customers

1976 (?)—

Geneticist, educator

Geneticist Rick Kittles, a professor at Ohio State University, became one of the hottest young scientific researchers in the country in the early 2000s. When he was hired by Ohio State in 2004, the Columbus Dispatch reported that he would bring to the university more than $1 million in research grants in addition to his teaching expertise. He was a nationally recognized investigator whose specialties encompassed such vital topics as prostate cancer and the role of genetics in disease.

Yet it was outside of the academic world that Kittles made headlines. His company, African Ancestry, Inc., used his expertise in genetic testing to put African Americans, from celebrities to ordinary genealogy buffs, in touch with their roots in a way that Americans of European descent took for granted but that a displaced and enslaved people had mostly only dreamed of. Kittles offered his customers a glimpse into their specific African ancestries, pinpointing an actual African ethnic group to which one or two of the customer's ancestors had belonged. The path that led to the founding of African Ancestry was complicated and not without controversy, but Kittles found that his research often fed into the deep interest in African-American genealogy that had been awakened by the publication of Alex Haley's book Roots in the 1970s.

Rick Antonius Kittles was born in 1976(?) in Sylvania, Georgia, in an area his family had inhabited for several generations, but he grew up in Central Islip, New York, on Long Island outside of New York City. When he was young he hoped to become a rap musician, but he was curious from the start about human origins and differences. "I used to always wonder in school why everybody looks different," Kittles told Alice Thomas of the Columbus Dispatch. "I was always the only black kid in the class."

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