Roberta Ginsburg doesn't like divisiveness, nor will she tolerate complacency.
That's why Ginsburg, 59, an East Falls resident, spends her free time coaching ex-criminal offenders and spearheading community-development initiatives.
That's also why starting DNA Connect, a clearinghouse for genetic testing, was the perfect outgrowth of her interests.
The company — founded by Ginsburg in 2001 — offers DNA tests for paternity, family reconstruction, ancestral and siblingship purposes.
Her work has also wound up reuniting long-lost family members, identifying missing persons and leading adopted children to their birth parents.
Sitting in her North Broad Street office, which is decorated with paintings of Martin Luther King Jr. and proud-looking African women, Ginsburg described her passion for this work.
"It's important to know where you come from," she began. "Say you're adopted, and you turn 18. You want to know, what happened? Who is my mother? Who is my father? Where do I get my looks? My love to dance?
"People want that connection more and more," she added.
A Lack of Information
But a lot of people lack that information, insisted Ginsburg.
"About one in 12 babies born in the U.S. — we're not sure who the father is," she said, citing multiple partners, cheating and incest as reasons for these discrepancies.
DNA Connect tests clients by sending blood, or cotton swabs, off to area laboratories. Ginsburg explained that the labs then examine the DNA markers, or structural sequences, in these samples to determine a genetic blueprint. By comparing these results to those of other alleged family members, DNA Connect can provide some accurate answers on kinship.
But Ginsburg's work is not all science; she often ends up in the middle of some sticky family situations. In one case, for example, Ginsburg, who frequently makes home visits, was called to a house where a mother suddenly showed up at another woman's doorstep with a 2-year-old in tow. According to the woman who telephoned, the baby had been left because, apparently, her son was the father.
Ginsburg arrived, and tested both the child and the alleged father. Their DNA did turn out to be a match; the man was this baby's biological parent — and he hadn't had a clue.
"Sometimes, when you go into a house, you could cut the air, it's so tense," she described.
"We don't know when people come in [to us] what their emotional state is."
But Ginsburg, who grew up in West Philadelphia, walks into these situations with relative ease.
"I grew up in a neighborhood that was all kinds of people from all walks of life," she relayed. "I'm used to that and comfortable with that."
Her forthright personality also seems to translate well on radio; Ginsburg has been a popular broadcast personality for years. Operating under the nickname "Roberta G.," she hosted a program called "DNA Mondays," a question-and-answer session on Power 99 FM, for 21/2 years.
These days, she's branching out to Spanish-speaking airwaves, doling out DNA-testing advice on La Nueva Mega 1310 AM.
Ginsburg said she developed a sense of activism early on; she grew up in a house filled with socially minded Jewish women — her mother, grandmother, aunt and sister.
Her mother worked at the Philadelphia Board of Education's African-American studies department in its earliest days; her grandmother assisted mental-health patients in her free time, often bringing them to the house on weekends.
Ginsburg said that her grandmother, in particular, stands out as a role model.
"I always think Judaism is about doing mitzvahs," she said. "The way I understood it, it was having to do at least one good deed a day."