Sankofa is a word from the Twi language in Ghana, which means “go back and get it.” Conceptually, it means to look to the past and reclaim our heritage as a way to move our people forward. We thought it was the perfect word to describe an oral history project that was initiated by and is further inspiring a progressive community development organization.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we embarked on a journey to capture oral histories from as many of the living legends and emerging leaders in our community as we could. We called them our Storytellers. We started by recording on zoom because we were so uncertain about gathering back then, and later moved onto in-person interviews.
Our Storyteller interviews featured people from across generations, with an emphasis on elders in our community who have given in service for many years. They were conducted by a team of eight young interns, high school and college-aged, who learned the process of ethnographic interviewing as well as skills in videography. By working with professionals like anthropologist Dr. Alisa Perkins, radio,TV and film producer Malikah Shabazz, and documentary-maker Razi Jafri, we prepared these eight interns to produce the best content possible.
Two years later, on May 14th, 2022, we gathered with our community to officially launch the storytellers project to celebrate and recognize the work our young interns have put in to collect 50 precious oral histories from our local Black Muslim community. At the Sankofa event, we also were given the opportunity to recruit another cohort of youth for another 50 testimonials that will further move the project forward.
From there, students at several universities helped edit and transcribe the interviews so they could be stored in a fully-accessible public archive, available for anyone to benefit from, now into the distant future. We believe that authors and researchers will find priceless value in these recordings for years; that people of every age and background can find inspiration in these stories; and that other communities will find a model for documenting their significant histories as well.