The promise of what a united community can accomplish together, while drawing inspiration from its past, is being realized in a new magazine publication called “Sankofa.”
The word Sankofa comes from a language of Ghana, Africa, and means “go back and get it,” referencing the need to learn from the past to move toward the future.
The year 2020 was one that encompassed many historic events, and as the year unfolded Rebecca Spence felt the events building into a call for action: The national shutdown as the COVID-19 pandemic swelled; the death of civil rights icon John Lewis; the seemingly premature death of “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman; the nomination of Kamala Harris as the first female and first African-American to be vice president of the United States.
“I told my sister that it came to me in the middle of the night that I needed to do something,” Spence said of her idea to bring people together to work on a project to produce a publication. “I’ve always asked the Lord to use me, and different times He has given me ideas to help unify people and make a difference.”
Spence thought about the way that COVID-19 was impacting the Black community so severely.
She reflected on Lewis’ encouragement to get in “good trouble.”
She heard Boseman’s quote that he wanted to use every gift God gave him.
She knew that Harris’ education at one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) was the foundation for all of her future accomplishments.
And, of course, at the root of everything is the Christian faith that undergirds not only her own life, but generally is at the core of the growth and advancements in the Black community.
Those ideas came together as the foundational elements for a publication for the Black community in Alcorn County and beyond.
Spence began to explore the idea with retired health professional Ann Walker with reference to health issues, Willie Walker for his Christian perspective as pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church, Lena Mitchell as a retired journalist, James Bankhead for his photography and page design skills, and others.
“When Ann said ‘like-minded people,’ that was the key to everything coming together,” Spence said.
The work of Nehemiah in the Bible was a key element of Spence’s inspiration, and the group adopted “The Nehemiah Project” as the vision for their work.
“We worked together toward a common goal and everybody kept their eye on that goal,” Ann Walker said. “I think this exemplifies what teamwork can accomplish. Becky spoke with me about civic responsibility and reaching out to the community to use our resources to be stronger and self-sufficient.”
Each team member brought a different background and different experiences to the project.
As a retired journalist, Mitchell was able to cover different story ideas because of a background in researching and writing articles about a broad range of topics.
Spence’s own experience as a retired banker allowed her to bring expertise in personal finance to the project. She also brought together the team of writers who shared their experiences as graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
For Bankhead, it was the work he does as an independent photographer, as well as his professional background in information technology, programming and self-taught skills in desktop publishing, that proved so valuable to the team.
“I was looking to gain more experience in photography, taking different kinds of shots and designing cover photos,” he said. “But the project overall has been a very positive experience for me. Everyone would offer ideas, give feedback, get feedback, and respect each others’ ideas.”
And laying the foundation of Christian faith for it all was Willie Walker, who in addition to pastoring a Christian congregation is operations manager at the Daily Corinthian newspaper.
“I thought it was a great idea when Rebecca first mentioned it to me, though I didn’t have a writing role at first,” he said. “But as we talked, I said maybe I could try to find some time to do some kind of article. Before I knew it I had committed myself.”
The printing expense of this “Sankofa” project has been underwritten by three anonymous donors, but Spence said she hopes the publication is the start of an outreach that the community will embrace. Plans are to publish biannually in March and October.
The Nehemiah Project is a registered nonprofit with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office and will be happy to accept donations for future projects.
“Hopefully, if we plant the seed people will get what they need from it,” Spence said. “Everybody needs information about all of these topics, and I’d like to see us follow up with some health fairs, forums and other events that will be beneficial to the community.”
Where to find copies of Sankofa magazine (All Corinth locations)
The magazine will be available at a special drive-through event 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 10, Johns Street Park Community Center (Pink Elephant), 1102 S. Johns Street;
Daily Corinthian: 1607 S. Harper Road, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday;
Corinth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (Tourism Office), 211 North Fillmore;
Patterson Memorial Chapel, 125 Franklin Street;
Sweet Butterbeans, 3101 E. Shiloh Road;
J T’s Hot wings, 3109 Shiloh Road;
Jake’s Barber Shop, 101 S. Parkway;
Looking Good Beauty Salon, 506 Cruise Street;
Styles By Rita, 1206 E. Third Street;
Golson Tax Service, 3107 Shiloh Road.