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Philadelphia Gamechangers: The D’Zert Club

(Helen and Ali Salahuddin, at the KYW Newsradio studios.  Credit: Cherri Gregg)

(Helen and Ali Salahuddin, at the KYW Newsradio studios. Credit: Cherri Gregg)

Gregg_Cherrie--NEW Cherri Gregg
Cherri Gregg is the community affairs reporter for KYW Newsr...
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CBS Philly celebrates Black History Month with these profiles of notable Philadelphia “gamechangers,” people and organizations making a difference in the lives of the city’s African-Americans.

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By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The “d’Zert Club” is transforming the lives of African-American youth by linking them to their roots.

“We suffer from what’s called cultural amnesia,” says Ali Salahuddin.  “We can only really trace our history back to the plantations where our ancestors were enslaved.”

Twenty years ago, Ali and Helen Salahuddin founded the d’Zert club — and later the African Genesis Institute — to help cure this cultural disconnect among African-Americans.

“Other ethnic groups can trace their history back not only to the continent where they came from, but also to the city and their neighborhood where their ancestors grew up,” says Ali.  “It’s very important for African-American children to understand that they have a rich and glorious history that extends back thousands and thousands of years.”

The nonprofit organization offers a 27-month curriculum that teaches young people about the history of ancient Africa through classes, lectures, and field trips.  To culminate the experience, at graduation each year they take nearly 200 people on a free, ten-day trip to Africa.

“When you step foot on the motherland, your life changes in an instant,” says Helen Salahuddin. “There is something about the internal workings of the human body that lets them know they are actually home.”

(African Genesis Institute students watch a dance performance in Ghana.  Photo provided)

(African Genesis Institute students watch a dance performance in Ghana. Photo provided)

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Each year, they raise roughly $1 million — through internal fundraisers, donations from alumni, and private groups — to pay for the trek to Africa, as well as the classes and lectures.

And the Salahuddins say the effort it worth it.  Since 2000, the group has taken nearly 2,000 youth and chaperones to Egypt.

“When they stand in front of the pyramids, they know through the lessons they’ve been taught through our program the history of the pyramids, and that our ancestors built these marvelous monuments,” says Helen.  “It’s amazing.”

(Students visit the Sphinx.  Photo provided)

(Students visit the Sphinx. Photo provided)

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Helen Salahuddin says the journey starts in Cairo, where they see the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the various museums. Then they travel down the Nile by train to Luxor, then to Aswan, then to Abu Simbel.

“They have an experience that 90 to 95 percent of their family has not had,” says Ali, “so when they come back their horizons have been broadened.  They understand they can play on the world stage.”

The d’Zert Club is holding free informational sessions for the African Genesis Institute on February 24th, at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.  For more information or to sign up, go to africangenesis2.org.

Listen to the extended CBS Philly interview about the “d’Zert Club” (runs 8:04)…

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Stay tuned to KYW Newsradio 1060 and CBS Philly all month long for more Philadelphia Gamechangers, marking Black History Month in Philadelphia.

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