Sankofa: Brooklyn's Afro-centric Educational Goldmine

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An educational goldmine stands at 1670 Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

Sankofa International Academy’s motto is, “look to the past to go into the future.”  By following this motto, Sankofa has reached back and developed a system of learning that encompasses ancestor worship, folk wisdom, self-awareness, respect for traditional African life, pride in knowing your culture and love of self.

A Sankofa student, Breanna Brown, age 8, says, of the symbol and meaning of the Sankofa bird, that it,  ”means that you have to look back to your history to know what you are going to do in the future.”

Another Sankofa student, Jia Stewart, also age 8, feels that “Sankofa teachers love you, care for you, and teach you to do the right thing and not follow the wrong people.”

Established in 1985 by its present Director, Mrs. Ollie McClean, Sankofa was originally named Henson Preparatory School and was located at 144 St. Felix Street in downtown Brooklyn.  After 15 years at this location, in 2004 Sankofa took temporary residence at 966 Fulton Street, in the Fort Greene Senior Citizen’s building. Sankofa’s  present home is 1670 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, New York. The school serves 1st through 8th grades.

Why is Sankofa different?

Similar to most private schools, Sankofa offers small classes with individualized attention.  In addition to the sound foundation grounded in basic subjects, Sankofa offers the opportunity for its students to acquaint themselves with Broadway theatre; each month a student is rewarded for outstanding achievement, by dining out in one of the many fine Afrocentric restaurants in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill area; they compete in various city-wide competitions; Sankofa students are introduced to foreign languages; and each student can recite from memory every country on the African continent.

As aptly put by Director Ollie McClean, “The outstanding feature of a Sankofa education is that African history and great leaders of African descent is not only taught, but the students are saturated with historical information not usually obtained in public or private institutions. Seeing reflections of themselves at an early age increases self-esteem and pride in who they are and what they can achieve.”

Past Sankofa graduates include Imani Francis, who, after graduating from Sankofa and high school, entered C.W. Post College at age 16.  Another Sankofa graduate, Kendra Carlton, speaks fluent Japanese and graduated with honors from Vasssar College. A strong sense of competition is encouraged, and Sankofa children are not ashamed or afraid of being an outcast for excelling.

Promoting student self-esteem seems to come natural from this family-style staff. The family stretches well beyond the staff, and includes present and former educators, political figures, the business community and professional musicians. In their ardent desire to assure Sankofa’s continued success, these activists and musicians offer their services and talents to raise funds. These funds help to maintain tuition at manageable levels so that many of the parents searching for this type of quality African-centered education can avail themselves of it. 

The veteran students serve as mentors and warmly welcome newcomers to the fold. The Sankofa students looked back and saw a time when we were  all brothers and sisters and are forging this philosophy into their future.  Sankofa students eagerly drink from the trough of knowledge.

For more information, please contact  Ms. Ollie McClean at Sankofa International Academy, 1670 Fulton Street, between Schenectady & Troy Avenues, Brooklyn, NY,  11213-1251. Telephone (347) 365-9989.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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