Ollie McClean: Founder Of Sankofa, A School Embracing Culture In Education

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Ollie McClean -- educator, activist, historian. Photo by Nate Adams

[Black History Month Tribute]

Thirty years ago, Ollie McClean established Henson Preparatory School, which was renamed Sankofa International Academy, in 2004.

This Bedford- Stuyvesant independent African school evolved out of a need to provide quality education for her young son Calvin Jr., who subsequently attended C.W. Post University on a Football Scholarship.  Sankofa promotes challenging educational experiences and implements comprehensive, innovative, educational and cultural programs which maximize students’ potential as they develop critical thinking skills.

And, with today’s troubling economy, there are not many independent institutions which can boast of having been steadfast in providing continuous service to African-centered communities. But, considering the genius of the graduates of Sankofa, it is evident that the supporters appreciate the benefits of an education rich in cultural history.

Students from this independent school have won scholarships to historical Black colleges and an Ivy League school such as Vassar. They have performed at the United Nations, the 44th Black Congressional Caucus in Washington, DC, have been featured on Channel 7’s “Like It Is” program with the late Gil Noble, performed at the opening ceremony of the Gullah Festival in South Carolina, the African Arts Festival in Brooklyn, the New York City Council, Brooklyn Borough Hall, Community Organizations, led panel discussions on radio talk shows, and have been highlighted in many newspapers, to name a few achievements.

Starting at age 10, Sankofa’s students also engage in weekly Community Service through partnership with Fort Green Stuyvesant Heights Senior Center. This interaction with seniors allows for the development of respect and an appreciation for the Elders, personal growth and the usage of critical thinking skills as they research the connection between oral and written history.

As a member of the former Federal Steering committee, representing the African community, Ollie McClean, widely known as "Sister Ollie" in Brooklyn, recognized that her own well-being is derived from that of the family's and the community’s.

Beyond her work to educate the young minds, she continuously seeks to bring the world’s attention to the plight of the African Burial Ground. For two consecutive years, 2007 and 2008, Mrs. McClean addressed the United Nations General Assembly during their session on Indigenous Issues and with passion outlined to the heads of states the case of the cemetery of enslaved Africans unearthed in lower Manhattan by the General Service Administration in 1990. As co-chair of the Committee of Descendents of the African Burial Ground, Ollie McClean is in an on-going struggle with GSA to remove the Burial ground from under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department and give our ancestors their due respect in death.

When the seat of the Late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in Brooklyn’s 11th Congressional District was highly contested in 2006, the community asked Ollie McClean to step up to fill that potential void. Using”It’s about the Children” as her campaign theme, Ollie managed to get on the ballot on Election Day. She understands that purpose requires service to our communities and families.

Ollie McClean is a civil rights leader and community icon who has been recognized at City Hall by elected officials and featured on several media outlets.

She has a life long history of enforcing guiding principles which inform and give others a shared sense of collective identity. Sankofa International Academy is strongly supported by The Association of Black Educators (ABENY), a group of retired and active DOE Administrators and by Assemblyman Charles and City Councilmember Inez Barron.

Through membership on the Boards of The Porter Foundation and the Black Solidarity Education Committee, she continues to embrace the principle that those who live in the African community are obligated to support and see that the interest of each person is tied to the interest of the family and community.


To support Sankofa Academy and Ollie McClean's education mission please call 646-220-3207. 

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