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Sankofa


Why today's Travel Tuesday series

Written on Tuesday, July 28, 2020



This week we watched representative John Lewis funeral and final crossing of the bridge live on the news. I remembered my experience of walking across the same bridge in 2013 as part the Sankofa experience.


Later in the day, as I was working on my website, I found two posts about the trip.


I had forgotten about these. I didn't blog in college but I had just started a blog about teaching that month so I happened to record about the trip and reflection there! I'm really glad I did because I had forgotten most of these details.


The Sankofa trip is a 60 hour pilgrimage to historical sites and museums in the Southern United States. But the experience starts 3 months before, with readings, films, classes and several meetings. It is set up as a group of about 34 students and 6 leaders. Each person has one partner and each set of partners are paired up with another partner set to make a small group of four. All meetings leading up to the trip and all activities on the trip are in partners and the small group of four. It is non stop from Thursday evening to Sunday morning.


I've adjusted the layout and combined the two posts into one, but I've kept the words the same as I wrote them in 2013, when I was 20 years old, studying Elementary Education and Spanish at North Park University in Chicago, Illinois.



Sankofa Introduction

Written on Thursday, February 21, 2013



The Sankofa experience is a racial reconciliation trip that deeply and authentically looks at our nation’s history and past, as a means to move forward.


For three months, as a greater team and with our partners, we have been meeting weekly, watching documentaries and having discussions. We have been learning about the history in the US related especially to marginalization and oppression of those who do not fit the dominant narrative, through out history, as well as currently. Therefore, not only are we exploring race, but also religion, class, gender, and sexuality. For partners, we are paired up with the same genders and different ethnicities. My partner and I will be sitting together on the bus discussing documentaries, museums, visits, activities, and everything that takes place this weekend.


Sankofa: (san = “to return”) + (ko = “to go”) + (fa = “to look, to seek and take”)


This is the idea that we must return and look back before we can truly move forward. This is the essence of racial reconciliation, and this is what I will be experiencing this weekend.

Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana known for the proverb "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten"

The Sankofa bird is pictured flying forward with its head turned backward to symbolize the need of looking back in order to move forward. The gem in it’s mouth symbolizes the wisdom based knowledge that is gained from the past as well as the generation to come that will benefit from that wisdom.


The Sankofa trip starts TONIGHT with dinner at 7pm and boarding the bus at 9pm.

Thursday leave Chicago in the evening, traveling by bus.

Friday arrive in Memphis. Visit museums. Free time. Group Activity. Check into Hotel.

Saturday leave for Montgomery, AL. Visit location (much of which we are unsure of). Leave for Selma, AL. Visit Museums. Dinner. Leave for Chicago.

Sunday arrive in Chicago and debrief together at a church before returning to campus.


This is going to be a weekend full of pain, trust, uncomfortableness, and so much more that I will not know until I am there experiencing everything. We are in for a trip of a lifetime, hopefully one that changes and disturbs us in order to better ourselves and the inequities of our community and nation.


This is our bus route. People we met along the way called us the modern day freedom riders.


Sankofa Reflection

Written on February 21, 2013



It has been exactly 2 weeks since Sankofa. These past two weeks have flown by, sadly, without much processing or reflection time on thoughts about Sankofa. Last week was a whirlwind with my birthday and midterm final projects/presentations. This week, I have been sick since Monday. And next week, I’ll be on the Appalachia trip! So I know that I must take the time now, even as I’m drowsy on cold meds, I must reflect and attempt to process through and share some of my Sankofa experience. I will outline what each day looked like, and hopefully some of my feelings and discoveries.



Day 1: Thursday, February 21, 2013.


Activity

Whole group dinner. Leaders shared about their experience in racial reconciliation and why they are leading the trip, we boarded the bus and left Chicago at 10pm.

Thoughts

I had not met one of our four small group members which made me nervous feeling like we didn't know each other very well, as we were leaving.

My partner and I had a nice time catching up on where we grew up, what we’re studying, and what we are interested in doing after college.


Activity

As a bus, we watched a documentary that shared the story of Tom Coleman, an undercover police officer, working in Tulia, TX, know for the Tulia 46. I highly recommend learning about this, however I don’t remember the name of the exact documentary we watched.


Thoughts

My partner and I felt very similar about this video. We had both watched the The house I live in documentary just 2 days previous which dealt with many similar topics. These documentaries address the topic of institutionalized racism.

We were both disturbed by the Tulia 46 documentary. The way the officers arrested the citizens, charged them with lack of evidence and without reviewing alibis. The way the officers and court denied their blatant racism, and even after an attorney proved most of the victims innocence, Tom Coleman and the Tulia officers were hardly reprimanded for their outrageous acts.

We were also amazed that this happened so recently, and that it is still going on today. (1996-2005)

After some discussion, we fell asleep. Rest stop at 2am and we woke up in Tennasee!


Day 2: Friday, February 22, 2013.


Activity

Southern style breakfast at Miss Polly’s on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee.

Thoughts

This was when I really started to bond with our small group. The four of us girls, had a nice breakfast together, along with the rest of our whole group.

Activity

We went to the Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum. We started the tour in the museum, which extensively explores the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was very interesting to learn so much about the criminal investigation side to the assassination.


Thoughts

I wrote in my journal...

“We stood where he stood as he shot MLK. We stood where MLK stood as he was shot. This was quite an unexplainable experience. I felt so uncomfortable and almost sick as I stood where the shooter was. Neither of the places have changed…”

“One of the main things I took from this experience was everything that ‘just happened’ to occur right before/during the assassination:

  1. One of MLK’s security guards was removed.

  2. Two black men who worked on the block were relocated for the day.

  3. Two army soldiers were let up to the top of the fire tower for photography (best view of location)

  4. Stephen, the hotel tenant, was drunk.

  5. James Earl Ray was a criminal and ex-convict in the states and in London.

  6. The hotel and room number of MLK’s stay were both broadcasted publicly."


Activity 3

We went to Slave Haven, which is a house that was part of the underground railroad.


Thoughts

I wrote in my journal...

"A german man, Burkle, immigrated to the US to escape oppression. He found the same thing here. So he bought land 2 1/2 blocks from the Mississippi river and built a house that had a crawl space and a cellar to hide and free slaves. He intentionally picked his vocation as a cattle trader so he’d be able to free slaves. He “bought” 2 slaves to keep up the facade. He made connections with cattle buyers, who were also part of the underground railroad, located Illinois. From there, the freed slaves had to make it all the way to Canada in order to be freed. This was incredible to stand in the cellar…This man Burkle and his family were amazing…they even built a tunnel from the house to the river and built barns for cover. He bought all that land. We learned about slave conditions on the middle passage and how women were sold naked and picked for either “breeding” or working."

Activity 4

We checked into a hotel for the night, still in Memphis, Tennessee. We had a conversation as a group where we discussed our feelings and reactions at that point so far. We had pizza dinner and went roller skating as a group!


Day 3: Saturday, February 23, 2013.


Activity 1

We drove to Alabama and watched a documentary on the way called The color of Fear.

We were all required to talk to the whole group about where we were at this point, either a response to the video or just in general.


Thoughts

I talked a little bit about my upbringing and how I have made excuses because of being far removed from the south and not really seeing blatant racism in Seattle. White privilege was part of my experience but I was unsure how to differentiate where my race has affected situations verses my geographical location. Either way, I can’t ignore it and I want to be more involved in these conversations and learn more about racism today. I know our past injustices and inequities have infiltrated our society, so I want to learn more about what we can do.

Activity

We arrived in Selma, Alabama and went to quite an amazing museum. National voting rights museum and institute.


We then walked across the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus Bridge like the march that MLK, John Lewis and other major leaders were part of, known as Bloody Sunday. We walked in silence side by side with our partners.


Once we had crossed the river, our tour guide suddenly started yelling at us and commanding us. We entered into a simulation with no prior knowledge or preparation. The simulation was of the african people who were sold into slavery and put on the ships.

After we finished at the museum and simulation, we went to dinner, we then boarded the bus and headed back to Chicago.


Day 4: Sunday, February 24, 2013.


Activity We arrived early for church on the Southside of Chicago. The church is predominately black, Africans and African-Americans, as well as a few white families. Many were in traditional dress and we had quite the experience! We were there for a total of about 4 hours. After the service, once we were back on the bus headed back to campus, some people spoke and shed light on the many of the reasons and history of why the church service is ran the way it is.


Thoughts

This was very insightful. I learned more about the way politics are intertwined into black church culture and why that is so different in predominately white churches.


This sums up a little bit about the my Sankofa Experience. This is something I will be continuing to process and be in conversation about. Thank you for all the prayers that weekend. Please don’t hesitate to ask me more personal questions about my experience!

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