When I was 12 years old, my mom and I went to this old cinema on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to see a film called "Sankofa" written and directed by Haile Gerima. A black boy growing up in New York, I knew little of the horrifying atrocities of the kidnappings, the deadly middle passage, and the brutal chattel slavery system, so I was traumatized after the leaving the theatre. But as much as it pained her, I needed to know my history because knowing the past is an important step in being able to shape the future.
Fast forward 25 years, and I found myself introduced to this "sankofa" word yet again. This time, it was being used in connection with Chicago. Confused as to how the stories of blood, sweat and tears I saw in that theatre 25 years ago could have anything to do with the city of Chicago, I told myself, perhaps it was time to look it up. Sankofa is a West African word. It comes from the Twi language of Ghana, meaning, “Go back and fetch it”. Put simply, it is the practice of going into the past in order to learn from it and reclaim one’s essence.
Then I watched the documentary, and my mind was blown yet again.
Sankofa Chicago is an eye-opening documentary that reflects upon the importance of learning black history because without knowing where we came from, it is hard to make a roadmap for where we go from here.
In this sixty-minute documentary by directed by Vanessa Wright, black history and present-day black community are explored and reflected upon, with the aim of inspiring and guiding the next generations of black people living in the city.
"They need to know their history.. by coming together and making black lives matter more."
Sankofa Chicago fetches a dialogue of the black past through the mouths of children and the elderly and explores a path forward. Through her lens, Wright captures an intriguing exploration of black history around Chicago, from its contributions to African American history, to how it is or is not taught in schools. The documentary also sheds light on how the blood, sweat and tears that I learned about at 12 years old are related to the blood and tears being shed far too often in some pockets of Chicago.