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Sankofa Symbolism

I used the mythical bird, Sankofa, as a metaphor in my doctoral research on understanding a social movement through the power of story and storytelling leadership. Before this study, I was not familiar with the Sankofa tradition, and perhaps you are not either. It is an Akan, people of Ghana, West African descent, word describing the ability to review history to find strengths, to revisit earlier lessons, and to identify weaknesses and mistakes in order to guide ourselves wisely thereafter.

I was introduced to Sankofa by Joan Southgate, the 70+ year old African-American grandmother, educator, social worker, and community activist, who walked 519 miles of the underground-railroad across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and into Canada. For details of her journey, go to www.intheirpath.org.

Through her story and storytelling, she captured both hearts and minds of the many supporters and modern-day conductors met along her journey and taught me the meaning and significance of Sankofa. And though this walk has ended, the journey continues with efforts to save, restore and transform the last known pre-civil war house in Cleveland, Ohio into an underground-railroad teaching center.


Sankofa Bird

It is not taboo to go back and fetch it when you forget or don’t know. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated. The Sankofa bird has its feet firmly planted forward, but its head turned backwards, with an egg, symbolizing the future, held tightly in its mouth. Not only is there wisdom in learning from the past to build the future but we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. In every aspect of life – personal, spiritual, business, professional, whatever, you cannot move forward until you’ve looked back and absorbed where you’ve been.

Go Back to the Past and bring to the present, past values needed now

Sankofa represents the concepts of self-identity, redefinition and vision – all of which are cornerstones to the work of Gilliam Consulting. My work is centered on providing others with the sacred space, freedom and sense of security to examine their past, present, and anticipated or desired future. If the egg is held too tight, then it will break. If the egg is held too loose, it will fall. Our work together is focused on moving forward, while gaining wisdom from the past and exacting the proper balance in preparation for the future.



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Gilliam Consulting
Karen L. Gilliam, MBA, Ph.D., CDE
P.O. Box 46220, Bedford, Ohio 44146