Sankofa International Academy: It's all about the children!

EULENE INNISS | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

There is a great debate about the educational achievements of school children raging among pedagogues. Some promote the alleged virtues of charter schools, which are mostly in African communities, while others extol the possible value of public education. Both groups wrap themselves in arguments justified by watered down test scores as children of African ancestry continue to be subjects in mind-destroying experiments. Bystanders cheer from the sidelines for their group based on children's performances on questionable tests.

The daily unfolding of these episodes is highlighted in the media and press. Parents and guardians continue to search for solutions to the miseducation of their children. Ollie McClean states that her independent school, Sankofa International Academy, receives calls and visits every day from caregivers who tell stories of their children's experiences in the New York City school system and express their desire to give them a more relevant education. In her soothing, nurturing voice, McClean's response is always: "Just bring them, we will work it out. We must save the children for tomorrow."

Conversations with McClean make it clear that it is about the children, so when the economic downturn made her consider closing the school after 25 successful years, it is no surprise that Sybil Clarke, wife of historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke, said no to this modern-day Harriet Tubman. Clarke sent out word that this valuable independent school had to stay open.

Dr. Adelaide Sanford, member emeritus of the New York State Board of Regents, while speaking at a Sankofa function at Tropical Paradise, which was sponsored by Rev. C. Herbert Oliver, president of the Black Solidarity Education Committee, summed up the urgency of the occasion in her riveting address about the importance of a curriculum that includes the contributions of Africans and their descendants in the development of the world, especially America. She made it clear that the children at Sankofa were exceptional because they knew their history and lived up to those high expectations.

This message was reinforced by Gil Noble on his Channel 7 "Like It Is" program, where the panel, along with McClean, discussed the true worth of an education rich in African culture and critical thinking, as taught at Sankofa.

Then, on Tuesday night, October 19, at the Sugar Hill Restaurant in Brooklyn, world-renowned artist Stanley Banks, bassist for George Benson, told of his encounter with 6- and 7-year-old children at Sankofa. Banks recounted how the children recited, in alphabetical order, the names of the 52 nations of Africa and identified them on the map and how they stood before their classmates, the staff and parents every Monday morning to give oral presentations without notes. He said that the depth of their knowledge of culture and history is forever etched in his mind, at which point the wall-to-wall group of guests gave a standing ovation. That's why, Banks said, he organized the musical extravaganza and fundraiser on October 19 and had a host of artists volunteer their time and talent in support of the children.

This intergenerational group, comprised of more than 60 well-known musicians and performers, kept all genres of music going for over six hours. Supporters in attendance confirmed that Sankofa is truly addressing the educational needs of children of African ancestry, so it's quite natural for Sankofa to boast that for the past 25 years, not one of their graduates have gone through the penal system.

The list of guests and performers included such notables as Assemblywomen Annette Robinson and Inez Baron, Councilman Charles Baron, Lonnie Youngblood, Danny Mixon, Rome Neal, Patsy Grant, Sam Pinn, Jitu Weusi and Rev. C. Herbert Oliver, Judy McNeil, Dr. James McIntosh (CEMOTAP), Al Husbands, Jeff King and others.

It is truly all about the children at Sankofa International Academy.