Students Prepare to Focus on Race and Justice as Sankofa Departs for the South

Sankofa group

CHICAGO, IL (February 12, 2007) – A group of 50 North Park students and staff is preparing to head south this week with a goal far different from most snowbirds and vacationers fleeing the Chicago cold. This group will embark on a University Ministries-sponsored Sankofa trip which, in the words of student-participant Marcus Simmons, will provide "an uninhibited, private, and confidential peer environment to discourse with 100 percent honesty and freedom."

A West African expression meaning "looking backward to move forward," Sankofa explores the biblical, theological, sociological, political, cultural, and psychological dimensions of the struggle for racial justice during the civil rights eras and their contemporary implications. The trip brings together readings, films, class lectures, and conversations with a pilgrimage to major civil rights sites in the southern part of the U.S. to focus on black/white relations. Sankofa seeks to provide experiences that lead to personal transformation on the difficult questions of race and justice.

The group departing on Thursday applied online last semester and was chosen from over 90 applications following an interview process. They began meeting last semester and have attended three lectures presented by Dr. Rupe Simms of the University’s Center for Africana Studies. Paul Johnson, program coordinator for University Ministries, and Nicole Newsome, a fourth-year M.M./M.Div. student-intern, will lead the group through the four-day trip. Upon their return on Sunday, they will meet again for post-trip debriefing.

Student Karima Walker shares, "I am looking forward to the conversations on the bus. I have been growing more and more comfortable in the classes on Thursday nights and I think that after a few days, in a very small space, more people will open up. I think that it can be scary trying to process your thoughts aloud in a setting that can become potentially very emotional and so it takes time to really believe that the space is really safe. I think, as relationships begin to develop over the weekend, that hopefully we will begin trusting each other enough to become vulnerable."

Upon reflecting on the actual trip and the sites to be visited, including a Louisiana plantation, museums in Memphis, Tenn., and the Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, Walker continues, "I am also REALLY looking forward to learning about these huge places in the civil rights movement while being in the actual place. It's such a holistic learning experience to be in the place, learning about the history and in conversation with those who have been directly affected by these events and places. I am excited to be learning our story and how that will make relationship more possible."

Holly Kress is another student departing on Thursday. She is looking forward to "crossing some boundaries and digging into the complicated muck that people are afraid to touch. Maybe, we'll be able to clean off some of that muck and find a treasure we didn't see before, or maybe not, but we have to try and this group of people seems more than willing to get a little dirty."

Of course, in the midst of these hopes, there are also fears. Karima Walker admits to "the fear of becoming vulnerable and then being rejected… reconciliation can be such a messy, scary thing… So far, the group experiences have been an excellent starting point, a good foundation and I am excited to see where it will go from here."

Marcus Simmons shares some of Walker's anxieties. Having participated in a prior Sankofa, he says, "I am anxious about being pushed to my mental, spiritual limits once again. This is the kind of trip where you are asked to move out of your comfort zones for other people and ultimately for yourself, which never gets any easier."

For more information about the University’s Sankofa program and to watch a video of past trips, click here.