“I see the Sankofa Collaborative growing to be the “go to” resource for educators, museums, historic sites, historic societies, libraries and other institutions who not only want to improve awareness of African American history but to learn how to discuss difficult topics about African American history. African American history is American history. We cannot stress that enough!  –Beverly Mills, Co-author of If These Stones Could Talk

Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck at the January 25th Sankofa Collaborative hosted by Grounds for Sculpture Photo Credit: Heather Brady

On January 25th, I set off to an event at Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) past larger-than-life sculptures (courtesy of well-known artist and founder of GFS Seward Johnson) sculpture-couples danced in the cold sunlight while commuter trains sped through Hamilton Train station.

More sculptures pointed the way towards the Grounds For Sculpture, the location of the former New Jersey Fairgrounds, described on the GFS website as “a different kind of museum.” Situated in a bright modern building, the day-long symposium I attended “Engage Your Audience with Difficult Topics in African American History” was similarly a different kind of symposium.

I learned about the Sankofa Collaborative–whose tagline is “looking back, moving forward” from authors Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck during our work together on their book, If These Stones Could Talk. “You should come, Kim,” Bev and Elaine suggested. At the time, they described how their tour at the historic William Trent house with Sam Stephens actually sparked the first gathering.  (Google Beverly and Elaine’s Friday’s Memory: “It all Started with a Question” for that story.) https://www.facebook.com/pg/ifthesestonescouldtalk/posts/?ref=page_internal

During each symposium, all of which have expanded my understanding and deepened my knowledge of NJ’s past, including slavery and its legacy in the state, Sankofa invites different topics of focus but the goal remains the same.

The vision Sankofa describes on their website is as follows: “That all residents of New Jersey know, acknowledge and appreciate the critical role and contributions of African Americans to the history, development, and current affairs in our state.  (Click here to find out the deeper symbolism of the word Sankofa).

Above: Jamie Kyte Sapoch describes the days program. Photo credit: Heather Brady

Funded by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the New Jersey Historical Commission, the organizations that form the Sankofa Collaborative include the Grounds for Sculpture (GFS), the William Trent House, the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) and 1804 Consultants.

Photo Credit: Heather Brady

This year’s event drew over 90 participants, many from museums, schools and libraries as well as other cultural institutions throughout New Jersey. At my table, I sat next to representatives from Princeton Public Library, Piscataway Public Library as well as  Pennsbury Manor among others.

“We are continually attracting diverse audiences from all over the state! As this was our 4th symposium since January, 2017 the Sankofa Collaborative has garnered an incredible following in a short period of time,” said Beverly. “Our reputation for hosting quality informative workshops makes us extremely proud,”

Here are a few more photos from the day. Thank you to Heather Brady, Director of Education and Engagement at the Grounds for Sculpture, for the photos that appear in this blog.

Photo Credit: Heather Brady

Left: Shirley Ann Satterfield:  (above)  “When I came back to Princeton, I saw a need to do an African American history tour there. I joined the historical society in 1990 and I noticed that all they were talking about was white history.”

Right:  Linda Caldwell Epps (above)  “I started 1804 Consultants after retiring because it’s always been a hobby of mine to share information about African American history wherever I go. The more the better. …Educators, curators, librarians:  You never know what leadership ability you have until you try.”

Photo Credit: Heather Brady

“Cultural diversity can be a very elevating and genuinely a life saving experience. But there is fear. Fear of trying to reconstruct this new social construct.” Reverend M. William Howard Jr.

Don’t forget to join the Sankofa mailing list to keep up to date on their next event “What Do You See? Using the Arts to Enrich Understanding of the African American Experience” June 2019