What are the origins of ASRI?
In 1999, a group of scientists and educators, led by me, a forensic anthropologist, decided it was time to confront a serious issue within the African American community: Many African Americans do not know or understand their connection to the slavery experience and, lacking this connection, cannot verify their ancestral history. As a result, African American children often suffer from low self-esteem, which in turn affects how they respond to their environment. Muhammad proposed an organization that would apply the principles of biomedical and cultural heritage research to help investigate and trace the footsteps of African American progenitors in America between 1628 and 1888.
The organization was incorporated as the African Scientific Research Institute (ASRI) and launched its first major project: to piece together the past of Jean Baptiste Pointe de Sable, a fur trader of African descent who is now regarded as the founder of Chicago. ASRI chose de Sable because of his importance to American history and because very little was known about the man, his life and the settlement he built on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Using scientific tools such as DNA profiling, Computerized Tomography (CT) scans and laser analysis, ASRI researchers identified de Sable and other individuals of historic significance. Then they used advanced forensic techniques – facial reconstruction, for example – to put flesh on skeletal remains. And, finally, they conducted an archaeological investigation to find artifacts, tools and buildings of the era in which de Sable lived. The result was a clear picture of the man: how he lived, where he lived and why he made certain decisions.
How you got to where you are today?
In 2006, the African Scientific Research Institute (ASRI) began collaborative work with the Parks/Promiseland communities of St. Martinville, Louisiana. ASRI initiated the Promiseland Heritage Development Project in St. Martinville, Louisiana in 2014. This was considered the first project of the “Jean Baptiste Point DeSable Delta Trails” enterprise, a cultural heritage tourism enterprise providing an innovative platform for eco-tourism and entrepreneurship. ASRI also sponsored the “First Annual African Diaspora Heritage Tour/Conference” as part of the Promiseland Heritage Development project
Has it been a smooth road? What are the biggest challenges?
The journey from vision to reality for ASRI has been challenging. But, the arenas of archeology and forensic science are themselves challenging. So, the challenge is not frustrating; but rather, exhilarating! The biggest challenge is also the most rewarding. It comes when you go to into a community, such as those in the Creole populations of Louisiana, and are allowed into the homes of a people who are rich in history, culture and love.
What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Success cannot be attributed to a single quality or characteristic. It’s a combination of several; not the least of which are: Dedication and perseverance: Never give up! A refined and unique skill set: Master your craft. A passion and love for what you do: Despite failures and set-backs, which will surely come, an absolute passion for what you want to achieve will forever propel you forward.
What sets you apart from others?
ASRI is unique because we have captured a part of this country’s history in a way no other entrepreneur has done before. Not only is ASRI representative of a very small group of archeologists who are themselves minorities; we have advanced “beyond the burial ground” to tell the story of a people who helped to build and shape the country. True to its vision and mission, ASRI challenges communities of people throughout the Delta Region through the identification of “Core Competency” initiatives:
- Creole Language Learning
- Archeological Field Training School
This eco-tourism business will also provide opportunities to showcase locally-grown and cultivated items such as fruits, vegetables, spices, recipes, fruit wines, and pepper jellies from Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and throughout the Delta Region, which extends to southern Illinois. A variety of products can be developed by local farmers to launch an organic food initiative to bring focus on local and regional food systems as a new component to assist with economic growth by creating sustainable jobs.
Creole Language Learning
A community-based learning model has been very successful in supporting language retention and learning among CajunFrench speaking population in Louisiana. But, there has never been a comparable “La Table Creole” for speakers of Creole French. These Creole language learning sessions are coordinated by local retired educators and indigenous people for whom Creole is a native language. Encouraging competency in the Creole language is an exciting an unanticipated component in the development of Eco-Tourism throughout the Delta region.
Archeological Field Training School
ASRI offers unique archaeological field schools for the development of young minds with the vision of training young archeologists. The “schools” assist in the forensic investigation of Black American remains. ASRI has unearthed the remains of slave artifacts in Pembroke, Illinois, and Park, Louisiana. In St. Louis, Missouri, ASRI found the skeletal remains of ASRl-1 (female) and ASRl-2(male) which date back to 1740. Brother Muhammad’s team was able to reconstruct the faces of these enslaved ancestors. The skull and reconstructed face of the male ASRl-2 are pictured above along with Dr. Jihad Muhammad.
What should we know?
Know that I am dedicated to pursuing my passion and will continue to discover and pass on the history and legacy of a proud people throughout the U.S. and beyond.
What are you most proud of as a brand?
The products that have grown out of the Eco-Tourism initiative in Louisiana include wine, coffee and sugar cane syrups.
Classification: Approval in 2004 as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization
Executive Director: Jihad Muhammad
Location: Chicago, Ill., St.Louis, MO., Lafayette, LA
“We are forever indebted to those who paid the supreme price of Slavery in the land of the free”