In its return to the HBS campus on December 8, 2006 after a one year hiatus, Sankofa both surprised and delighted, captivating the audience of nearly 600.
As the lights dimmed in Burden Auditorium, the air filled with anticipation for what was to be one of the best performances ever witnessed on the campus of the Harvard Business School. From the first harmonious melody sang by the gospel choir, to the inspired narrative performances of the Matriarch and granddaughter, to the rhythmic and spirited steps of the featured fraternities and sororities, the third annual presentation of Sankofa sponsored by The Boston Consulting Group did not disappoint. The many months of preparation by the African American Student Union (AASU), in collaboration with the African Business Club (ABC) and the Caribbean Business Club (CBC), produced a memorable presentation that was both educational and entertaining, weaving together a thoughtful storyline with powerful performances.
The celebration’s namesake “Sankofa” originates from the Akan-Twi language spoken in Ghana, West Africa. It means: “We must look back into the past so that we can move forward into the future.” As such, each year’s performance celebrates and reflects on the past achievements and contributions of people of color. The previous Sankofa event comprised of various acts, including story telling, a dance performance, and a step show. It was presented as a Black History Month celebration during February 2005 and brought together over 200 students in Spangler Hall’s Williams Room. Yet, due to the production’s absence in the prior school year, Sankofa was a fainting memory on campus this past semester. Undaunted, AASU, led by this year’s producers-Earl Gordon (NH), Erica Hunt (OA), Yaa Walker (OE), and Roberto Young (OF)-set out to revive Sankofa’s name. Opting to showcase a full-scale production in Burden Auditorium with a complete script, the professional show that resulted exceeded expectations and helped lay the foundation from which to build for future AASU productions. What is also important to note is that this year’s celebration was purposely held in December versus February, Black History Month. The organizers stressed the importance of showing that the black history and culture is alive and present year-round, and thus should be learned, understood, and appreciated as such.
This year’s presentation of Sankofa was a one-act play that journeyed through many eras within black history. With a script written by Erica Hunt (OA), Jen Percival (Partner, NH), and Yaa Walker (OE), Sankofa began with a high energy dance tribute to our roots in Africa, the origin of mankind, by the Boston-based dance troupe Silimbo Dadeane. The narrators then directed the audience’s attention to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who strove to preserve black culture and tradition here in America. This portion of the show also featured a riveting spoken word performance by Matthew Brewer (NF) and Ron Ragin (guest performer), whose powerful prose captured the hearts and minds of the audience.
The high energy continued with performances highlighting the development and cultural influence of jazz, rhythm and blues, and hip hop. In the ‘Who’s Who in Black America Fashion Show’ segment, members of AASU dazzled the crowd with their uncanny portrayals of prominent black figures within the arts from the 1920’s through today. The Dance Club of HBS followed by entertaining the crowd with a hip hop dance tribute. Yaa Walker then demonstrated the permeating effects of hip hop through a creative violin selection that intertwined classical and hip hop genres, mimicking the popular songs played by the DJ portrayed by L’erin Davis (OJ).
Another one of the many highlights of the show was the black Greek step show performances from the men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, the ladies of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, and the gentleman of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated. Combining the fancy footwork and handclaps of this rhythmic art with narration of the origins of these organizations and the history of historically black colleges and universities, this crowd pleaser brought everyone to their feet. Each of these outstanding acts was seamlessly connected by the marvelous performances of the show’s narrators: Lauren Moses (OE) who played the wise grandmother and Michon Pinnix (NA) who played the granddaughter. Sankofa concluded with a tribute acknowledging the many achievements and contributions to society by Africans, African-Americans, and Caribbeans throughout history.
Sankofa was met with the overwhelming approval of nearly 600 students, faculty, and other patrons who were in attendance. Among the many praises and accolades that flooded the writers, producers, and cast of Sankofa following the show, were the words of Kent Bennett (NF), the Director of this year’s HBS Show, who commented, “Friday night’s show was amazing! From start to finish the writing, singing, spoken word, stepping, dancing, acting and violin playing were all unbelievable-I was blown away.” Libby Cantrell (OE) stated, “It was one of the most high quality performances I have seen in a long time.” Commenting on the educational value of the event, Robin Cherry (OE) remarked that “the way the script was written made the entire night very meaningful-as my husband put it, ‘I actually learned a lot last night.'” Finally, Konark Singh’s (OI) statement epitomizes the desire of AASU, “I hope the Sankofa tradition continues at HBS because it was an awesome performance.” Although the curtain has closed on this year’s memorable event, you will not want to miss what AASU, ABC, and CBC have in store for next year’s rendition of Sankofa!