Blog Entry Health & Healing

Black History Month: How to Harness the Power of Sankofa in Your Everyday Life

by ​Dr. Phyllis Hubbard

Our ancestors always had some kind of notion that we will be traveling … sometimes physically in our bodies, sometimes traveling in our minds. And we have to always have the recognition that you must always be able to go back to your essence … So the Sankofa represents the ability of us as divine human beings to go into the future that is the unknown, but to guide that exploration into the unknown with reclaiming our essence of who we are. Sankofa represents that process...of how we as human beings can become greater than what we are today ... Dr. Wade Nobles (from Episode 3: Journey to Radiance: Sankofa)

Have you ever lost your keys while running late to work? It’s frustrating, isn’t it? The more frantically you search for your keys, the more elusive they seem to be. In exasperation, you throw your hands up in the air, slam them down against your sides and then you hear it. That jingle that only your keys can make. Your keys were in your pocket all along …

Keys are important because they open important doors that take or lead us to important places. Sankofa may be the most important key that we can hold, because it is the key that opens the door to the truest part of ourselves.

Through my own health journey, I’ve learned how to connect with my body’s own innate wisdom. Something deep inside me continually requested my attention. When I finally listened, my healing happened so quickly that it seemed magical. This “something” deep inside of us is our essence, the truest part of ourselves. It is the part of us that always guides us to right actions that serves our highest good. For Black people, colonization was used to erase as much of our essence as possible. Although our essence may lie dormant within us, it is certainly not gone.  Black History month is a beautiful time to experience the process of Sankofa through legacy and reconnection.  

The most recognized meaning of Sankofa is “go back and fetch it.” It refers to the practice of going into the past in order to learn from it and reclaim our essence. Most symbols of Sankofa show an image of a bird looking behind it with an egg in its mouth and the significance of the egg is vitally important. The egg represents the essence of who we are.  In order to ignite the power of Sankofa, we must return to our essence.  How can we return to our essence if we don’t know what our essence is? When we strip away influences from popular culture, associates, teachers, community, family, friend and foe, who are we? How much time have we spent wrestling with deep introspective questions? How do we cleanse ourselves of false narratives that have been hard wired into our consciousness?

​...You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

How to Harness the Power of Sankofa in Your Everyday Life

Now is the time to embark upon the journey back to your true self, and in that journey you will get to know the most fascinating person you will ever know … yourself. Listed below are three ways for you to harness the power of Sankofa.

1. Healing and Reclaiming Family Legacy

2. Connect with Your True Voice

3. Find and Live in Your Joy

Healing and Reclaiming Family Legacy. Last year, I had the bright idea that I would start interviewing my family on video. I feel like I know so little about my family because no one ever talks about our family legacy, but with many family members getting older and becoming ill, I felt like I had to bust a move. I was nervous about putting my oldest uncle on the spot and felt especially intimidated because when I arrived at his house, he was watching a football game. However, when I made the “ask,” he immediately turned the TV off! I teared up because in that moment, we both realized how important it was to share stories. My uncle opened up and shared so many fun stories about his life. I feel like I know an entirely different side of him, and it reshaped my perception of our family’s past.

I realized that it was important for me to take the first step and ask the questions.  My uncle cannot wait for me to come back with my camera and interview him again. My goal is to get to as many of my oldest relatives as possible over the next few years. I always travel with my video camera if I think I will be near family. So many of us have great camera phones, we can simply start with what we have. When you interview your family members, you begin to understand more about who you are, the challenges and opportunities that your elders experienced and the choices they made that led them to where they are today. I highly recommend interviewing older family members in a way that is comfortable for them.

If you know that they have painful memories that they do not want to revisit, mindfully focus only on questions that are centered around joy. Some examples include:

  • What is your happiest childhood memory?

  • What is your favorite memory of your mother/father/grandparents?

  • What is your favorite food (or why is ______ your favorite food) as a child? Why was it your favorite food? (Then ask other questions based on the response).

  • Why do you love _____ so much (pick an old relic in the house)?

Ways to Connect with Your True Voice

Take baby steps and remember to breathe slowly and deeply when seeking authenticity in voice expression:

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say.

  • Say “no” when you don’t want to do something without providing explanations.

  • Speak your truth even if you fear it may cause discomfort. If you find this process difficult, breathe and then pause before speaking. It will help you through the discomfort while allowing you to staying true to yourself.

  • Truly listen without thinking about what you are going to say next, then pause, reflect and respond.

Find and Live in Your Joy

I once asked a client what she did for fun. She couldn’t remember. In fact, it took her 4 months to remember that she loved tennis. It took me several more months to convince her that tennis was a way for her connect to her joy and for her soul to express itself. I  took her through series of questions to help put her on the path to discovering what brings her joy. If you find joy elusive, consider the following questions:

  • What did you love to do as a child?
  • What hobbies did you have as a teen?
  • When was the last time that you laughed until you cried?
  • Who do you enjoy being around the most?
  • What you do just for the fun of it?
  • Do you have a hobby? How much time do you devote to it?

As we continue to discover and celebrate our individual, family and collective legacies, let us remember the wise words of the great philosopher, theologian, civil rights leader and educator Howard Thurman:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Check out our special two part Journey to Radiance podcast: Journey to Radiance Sankofa, featuring an in depth interview with Dr. Wade Nobles and Sizwe Andrews’ Sankofa experience.  

Journey to Radiance is now LIVE! Download our copy on iTunes and the CBMA website. Tag us on Twitter @BMAchivement using hashtag #BMARadiant. 

Dr. Phyllis Hubbard is Director for CBMA's Health & Healing Strategies campaign. You can follow her on Twitter @GetRadiant. 


Disclaimer: The information on this website is a synergistic blend of holistic and traditional medicines which uses organic materials and healthy lifestyle suggestions to support the body's natural healing processes. This information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to take the place of advice provided by our licensed medical doctor or other health care provider. This information has not been evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in the case of ill health, pregnancy, and other serious health conditions, a licensed medical practitioner should always be consulted prior to using any service or product offered by The Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Our product information and descriptions of any and all forms of holistic medicine are in no way intended as a medical claim to prescribe, diagnose, treat or cure any situation or disease.



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