Michael Sidney Fosberg grew up in a White, working-class family in Chicago. He always felt different. He couldn’t quite figure it out though. His siblings, born to his mom and stepfather, had straight hair. He didn’t.
“I always felt like I didn’t fit in. I couldn’t do anything with my hair. I had an Afro in high school,” he laughs. “I would ask my mom, ‘Where did my hair come from?’ One day she got fed up with my asking and she said, ‘Your grandfather had hair like that.’ I couldn’t figure that out because her father was bald.”
Eventually, Fosberg learned the secret that his mother, born of Armenian descent, kept from him for 32 years. His father is a light-skinned Black man.
“She was 20 when she had me. My father was very light skinned. My mother’s family wanted her to marry one of her own. Because she was with a Black man and pregnant, they disowned her and didn’t talk to her for a long time,” says Fosberg, who details his journey of self discovery in the book Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race and Self Discovery.
Now 53, Fosberg learned the truth in February 1992. Since then Black History Month has never been the same. No longer did the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities graduate feel out of place.
“All my life I had felt a connection with African American people and culture but couldn’t explain why,” says Fosberg. “When I discovered the truth, it was as if the glove fit perfectly. Before I knew what I was, I would always say if I could be anyone in history, it was Martin Luther King Jr. That was the guy I wanted to be.”
He also discovered his rich heritage, including a great-great-great grandfather who was a member of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, another relative who was a pitcher in the Negro Leagues and his grandfather, Dr. Roy A. Woods, a former chairman of the physics department at Norfolk State University for whom a science building is named.
Fosberg now uses his experiences to teach others how to confront their own thoughts on race. Incognito, his one-man autobiographical play, reveals his journey toward discovering his father and his roots.
“My mother didn’t give me the truth about my heritage but she gave me the curiosity of exploration and adventure. We explored all kinds of places all over the world. It’s important to be curious and find out things. Not only will you find out things about yourself, but you’ll find out something about somebody else.”
Adds Fosberg, who teaches acting and directing on the campus of Northwestern University as a part of the National High School Institute Cherubs program, “Everything happens for a reason. I found out the truth when I did because that’s when I could digest it, write about it and tell my story to get others to dialogue. Had it happened sooner, I might not have had the foundation on which to do it. I was able to put this into a one-man play and a book. Now this is what I do for a living. I go around the country engaging people in impromptu dialogue about how we can identify ourselves and how we can identify others.”
For more information about Fosberg, his book and his one-man show, visit www.incognitotheplay.com
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Senior Editor, EBONY Magazine