By Joey Payton
Did you know there are only 54 black-owned bookstores remaining in the U.S.?
The bookstore, which is located across the street from Howard University, is known for emphasizing the significant history and posterity of black people.
“This bookstore is very important because we need to see ourselves,” said Sankofa employee, Makala Scurlock. “We need to be able to read and know that we come from something. Our history doesn’t begin with slavery.”
Scurlock, a senior at Howard University majoring in African Studies, also teaches at the Afrikan Centered School Nation House. She was happy to answer our questions about the African-inspired bookstore.
GUBC: What is Sankofa?
Scurlock: It was founded in about 1997. We have the largest amount of children’s book by and about African people about the African diaspora—that’s what this whole bookstore is all about. The name comes from an Adinkra symbol. Sankofa is a bird, and if you see the bird, most of the time it’s clutching an egg. The egg is symbolic of history because if you hold it too tightly, then it will crack, and if you hold it too loosely, it’ll fall. So if you understand your history, then you can continue moving forward and not repeat the same mistakes. It’s also the name-sake of the co-owners’ movie, SANKOFA.
GUBC: Where is Sankofa located? Any significance?
Scurlock: We are across the street from Howard University. That speaks for itself, since it’s one of the oldest historically black colleges and universities. Also, it’s on Georgia Ave., Washington, D.C., which was also known as the ‘Nile Valley,’ because there used to be a bunch of black-owned business all along this street.
GUBC: When is Sankofa open?
Scurlock: We’re open every day. 11am to 8 pm, Monday through Saturday. And Sundays we’re open 11am to 6pm. And every Sunday we have ‘Happy Nappy Storytelling.’ It’s free. Bring your kids.
GUBC: Who should come to Sankofa?
Scurlock: Everyone! Anyone who is interested in learning about the African diaspora. Or if you’re an African and you’re interested in learning about yourself. Come and get education about it.
GUBC: Why go to Sankofa?
Scurlock: Because of the energy. You have the option of a place to come and sit and be around people who might not think like you but who have the same goal, which is to learn. Not only do we have books, but we have well-known influencers who come here that do workshops. That’s very special to have a space where you can come and hear that. If you only see black people from the perspective of the media, then you’re only going to have a one-dimensional knowledge of them. This includes African people themselves.
GUBC: How to find out more about Sankofa?
Place: Sankofa Video, Books & Café, Along the ‘Nile Valley’ on Georgia Ave., Washington, D.C.
General theme: African inspired. Emphasis on African diaspora and people of African descent. Books and videos ranges from children’s to adult literature.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A Brief History: Opened in 1997 by Haile and Shirikiana Gerima, a filmmaking couple who produced and directed the internationally acclaimed film, SANKOFA. Since then, it has continued to spread black stories through books, films and events.
Food/Drink: Yes. The Sankofa Café offers a phenomenal menu of African inspired cuisine. You can enjoy food and beverage on the front patio, in the café or in the reading area. Ask for the Larry Clark!
Appointment necessary: None needed. Everyone is welcome.
If this place were band: Fela Ransome Kuti & African 70 – V.I.P. (Vagabonds in Power)