How San Diego’s Shellie Baxter uses tech to connect BIPOC to their roots
Aug 02, 2022 - Whitney Hejmanowski
Meet Shellie Baxter, founder of Our Genetic Legacy
A social impact scientist and entrepreneur, San Diego’s Shellie Baxter was tired of the systemic erasure of BIPOC American legacies and contributions from U.S. history—so she decided to correct the narrative herself. In 2018, Shellie founded Our Genetic Legacy (OGL), a San Diego-based nonprofit with the mission of telling the previously-excluded stories of BIPOC Americans using genomics and tech.
Discovering her own family legacy inspired her to help other families recover their genealogical histories and help San Diego youth discover their identities—empowering them to navigate life with a newly found sense of self-assurance. Shellie also works to change how U.S. history is taught to include BIPOC history beyond trauma and enslavement.
Discovering legacies through genomics
Using its research method—Legacy Tracing—OGL consults individuals looking to uncover and preserve their ancestors’ unique legacies through a combination of traditional and DNA-based genealogy. Participants work with professional genealogists to collect samples and compile records, and can publicly publish their findings to ensure that their family stories survive for future generations.
Shellie also brings OGL’s research methodology to San Diego schools, conducting History Makers’ Workshops with eighth through twelfth-grade students, and will share their stories in its upcoming multi-volume history book, We The People: Teaching US History Through The Ancestral Stories of Black, Indigenous and People of Color, in July 2023.
Capturing lost history via drone
OGL also seeks to empower San Diego’s BIPOC female teens interested in STEM careers via DRONe Project, a paid workforce development program that gives them real experience working as digital historical preservationists. As part of the program, teen participants become licensed drone pilots, and will take to the skies above Julian Cemetery and Harrison Serenity Ranch to map terrains of historical significance in San Diego’s BIPOC history using LiDAR laser technology.
Ultimately, the girls will use the tech to create maps of the Earth’s surface that are invisible to the naked eye, similar to the technology used by National Geographic to find the lost Mayan ruins in Guatemala. The DRONe Project will determine exact burial locations in Julian and attempt to recreate how Black pioneer Nathan Harrison, the first Black landowner in San Diego, utilized his land on Palomar Mountain. The DRONe Project will publish its findings in the We The People Museum, a virtual space located in San Diego launching in July 2023.