Saturday, April 29, 2017

Afrikan-Centered Learning...Life Is Still Our Classroom

Spring '17 Sankofa $Math Entrepreneurs.  

Our year in the Nation's Capitol has been full of long stretches and fast curves...

Sankofa Homeschool Collective (SHC) is an Afrikan-Centered collective of families who have decidedly chosen to create an educational community reflective of the beauty of being descendants of the African Diaspora or, as Baba Obi Egbuna (my daughter's Pan Afrikan History teacher affirms) Children of Mother Afrika.  Know this: We at Sankofa "don't play that".  SHC is the true embodiment of homeschooling.  Life is still, our classroom...

Nanii's Pan-Afrikan History teacher Baba Obi, her crocheting teacher Mama Oni, her writing teacher Mama Khali and last but certainly not least her  (Husband/Wife) Money Math and Algebra dynamic duo, Baba kwao and Mama Lifoma (who also teaches math at Howard University) remind us that we are activist, journalist/writers, our own problem solvers and entrepreneurs.

These "facilitators" are more than just instructors, they have (rather quickly) become our extended family - our village.  These brilliant minds and brave hearts sharpen my daughter's iron but, also they sharpen mine.  I sit and watch in profound wonder at the way learning happens at SHC.  Every Friday, I get to sit-in and learn.  I am always welcome.  In fact, the Babas and Mamas (as we respectfully call each other) encourage parents to join in.  After a lifetime of Public School in the US, old scars are healed when Nani begins her day with Baba Kwao's Algebra I class.  My twelve year old is learning to solve and graph Quadratic Equations from a Haitian brother who greets his Watoto (Swahili for Children) in Creole and who is not regurgitating from a textbook but teaching straight from the dome - like we say in the South Bronx "Brothuh got heart."

In 2nd period, Mama Oni begins class with a ritual of affirmations.  "These hands are magic!" the girls affirm; lovin' on themselves and each other.  Crocheting with Mama Oni is not just about learning to create a (wearable) product; it's about learning to honor your ability to create with your hands what you need and desire and that includes: clothes, financial independence, Ujamaa or, cooperative economics and a self-loving, united village.  I believe there is a deeper work Mama Oni is doing with our girls.  In a world where it is popular to "hate on" and gossip about each other, Mama Oni is boldly teaching our girls powerful unity concepts.  As they learn the "V" crocheting technique I see our girls creating unbreakable chains of self-confidence and strong community.  No girl is ever left behind because a sister in the group will go to her aide.  Unlike public school where my daughter (along with her peers) were forbidden from getting up out of their seat to help another student struggling, to laugh, joke, sing, or even turn around to smile at each other; I see my daughter (who is an only child) help another little sister who is crying because she just doesn't get it.  And, in just a minute or two both girls are laughing and feeling confident in themselves and each other because they reinforced one another.  I know this is the way learning is suppose to happen. Like geese who fly in "V" formation, the V concept in crocheting is teaching our daughters to never leave each other behind but, that they grow stronger, faster, happier and, accomplish more with less strain when they work together.

Baba Obi in Fatigues breakin' it down for our youth.  Spring '17

Our Struggle Our Experience Our Responsibility No Apologies or, 3rd period Pan Afrikan History class is never uneventful.  I believe this is the class with the highest enrollment - 20 (maybe more?).  Best believe Baba Obi can be heard from the sidewalk just outside Studio 2 leading his 9 - 12 year old Watoto in song, vividly recounting an important event, pointing out the media's attempt to anesthetize them against the reality of current-day neo-colonialism or sternly redirecting a wandering mind.  He uses both methodical association techniques like his number-letter formula which helps students learn all 55 countries in Africa, the students perform historical re-enactments, call and response and song.  Yes, on any given Friday, the sounds of learning resound from Studio 2 where  Baba Obi instills "our students must discover two important lifelong lessons: the first is that African children have just as much of a responsibility to educate the society as adults, the second is that our students will learn they are gaining quality  exposure to our history and culture much earlier than their parents/guardians."  If you haven't done the homework be prepared to be called out.  So many times, I am put to shame by how much factual African (American) history our Watoto know.

Parents sitting in class are not exempt from the circle of learning.  You know this year "a sistuh" done stepped up her game.  Obi never lets parents forget that learning about ourselves through our history is a lifelong, continual process.  Last year, Nani played a Ghanaian doctor in a children's play commemorating the life of President Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first Black president.  The media inundates our children with countless and meaningless figures who do not reflect the beauty, power and strength of the African Diaspora.  For the first time ever, my daughter invoked her Afrikan royal heritage in a play; not about fictional characters but, about HER real-life heroic ancestors. Inspired by my daughter, I decided to participate in Baba Obi's adult short-play this year entitled: Guerilla Mothers and Wives a fictional tale based on the true story of the role of mothers and wives in the Eritrean Revolution to be performed on May 19th, this year.


Up next is for most students (in the world) the favorite time of the guessed it - Recess.  But, not for the conventional reasons most students love recess.  At Sankofa recess is 90 minutes.  And, so much happens in those 90 minutes.  At Sankofa, playin' soccer on a patch of grass or the park, hoopin', taggin' each other or just hanging out and talkin' with their friends is absolutely encouraged, supported, facilitated and supervised by the collective.  For Mama Lifoma's middle to high schoolers however it is not just about getting out of class in fact, dare I say it?  The learnin' don't stop!  That's right, during recess Mama Lifoma's Watoto have what we call: Sankofa Market and that's when stuff get real, up in Sankofa!  All students are allowed and encouraged to create an item for sale. Yaaaaaaas! Our student-preneurs make it rain paper honey! Money Math is the incubator where on a weekly (now daily at home) basis my daughter and now we as a family are learning and implementing the fourth principle of Kwanza: Ujamaa or to build our own businesses, control the economics of our own community and share in all its work and wealth.

Two weeks ago while sitting in on (the other half of the dynamic duo) Mama Lifoma's Money Math class, I had one of those moments where you feel the ancestors sticking their chest out about you; where you can just hear 'em sayin' "dem my babies!"  Mama Lifoma was informing the students they would be participating in their 1st open to the public vending event which they themselves would brand, produce and execute - as a class project.  Whoooa! That is what I call learnin'!  Of course I was immediately drawn in and when she asked "can anyone think of a name for our event?" I thought "Children's Ujima Business Expo" but, I respectfully waited not wanting to impede the opportunity from a student to shine. After a few minutes of silence, I said "Mama Lifoma, what about Sankofa's 1st Annual Children's Ujima Business Expo?"  She liked it but then, Amoa, her son lit up in one of those creative genius moments (I love so much) murmuring "cube, cube, cube" eliciting the proverbial "what are you tawkin' about" look from Zion (our sixteen year old and old senior student in class).  None of us knew what Amoa was babbling about.

"CUBE...Children's Ujamaa Business Expo!" Amoa shouted out spelling it out phonetically for us.  "Sankofa's 2017 CUBE Conference!"  said Zion.  It was the perfect Swoosh!  I tell you, it was magical to be in the middle of that explosive energy. Our children are BRILLIANT!  Immediately Amoa ran to the whiteboard to draw out the logo for Sankofa's 1st Annual CUBE Conference.  The rest of the class came running over to see what all the commotion was about and jumped in with suggestions on the logo.  Reverberating from the synergy, Mama Lifoma and I high-fived.  Need-I-say-more?  Before the end of class Mama Lifoma reminded her Watoto "Don't forget about our upcoming Howard University vending day at the Blackburn Center!"

So what can you find at our highly sophisticated Sankofa Market during recess every Friday?  The Sankofa Market operates on Sankofa bucks which our Treasurer Zion Utsey is happy to exchange for US currency.  Once Bro. Zion exchanges currency with you, you can buy: Amoa's home-made bruffin's browny-muffin, Noah's home-made mint-lemonade, Ania's home-made sweet potato pie, Iyana's original black comic book series and of course the couture designs of the one and only - Ms. Naa Anyele Sowah-de Jesus who already has a rolling pre-order list.

Last but, never least is Mama Khali's 4th period Writing Truth To Power class.  Mama Khali is the culmination of my prayers in beautiful brown-sugar flesh; she is the Jimi Hendrix of Writing teachers.  The end of this session will be our full year with Mama Khali and as a writer myself I am honored to have her as a co-pilot in my daughter's writing journey.  This Sister does the dopest things like taking her students two hours out of the city to go meet Sonia Sanchez, in her own car - at no cost to parents.  Unfortunately this year, Nani and I were in the middle of our move so, she could not make it.  But, honey, watch out because next session is on like donkey-kong (Sorry, you gotta be at least 35 to laugh at that one).  This year, Mama Khali has had students to write about issues they feel very strongly about, create an organization to support that issue which the class will vote to decide what business will be chosen for an actual website launch.  My daughter's writing is a testament to how Mama Khali is inspiring her Watoto to reach higher within themselves.

Some of Sankofa's 9-12 year old girls...Spring '17

Yes, life is still our classroom...

You be safe.  I'll be dangerous.



  1. Mama V. You are a gifted writer. I enjoyed your post about our beautiful children and Sankofa Village!

    1. Greetings Mama ~ may i ask which mama? Givin' thanks to the ancestors.