History Becomes Real for High-School Students on Sankofa Journey

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (April 15, 2015) — Participants in the first-ever Sankofa trip for high-school students say the experience gave them fresh perspectives on the history of racial injustice as well as ongoing issues of disparity.

“Never had I been on a trip where I was able to stand on sites that made history,” said one student from Hope Academy, which paired with Minnehaha Academy on the journey. “It felt like I was taken back in time to the civil rights movement in 1963, from actually sitting inside of 16th Street Baptist Church to walking across Edmund Pettus Bridge. Being on this Sankofa trip was heartbreaking yet inspiring.”

Sankofa is a West African word meaning “looking backward to move forward.” During the four-day bus journey, participants are paired with someone of another race and travel through historic sites of importance to the civil rights movement, such as the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four young girls were killed when Ku Klux Klan members exploded dynamite there in 1963.

One Minnehaha Academy student said that visiting the sites, “really enlightened me to see how far we’ve come, but also hurt me to realize that these horrific events were taking place not that long ago.”

Minnehaha Academy, a K-12 school operated by the Northwest Conference, paired with Hope Academy, a K-12 school that works closely with Minnehaha, for the bus trip March 25-29. Thirty students participated in the trip.

Kevin Farmer, a Covenant minister who heads admissions and family ministry at Hope Academy, participated in a Sankofa trip last year and thought it would be a great experience for high-school students. He contacted Paulita Todhunter, director of diversity initiatives at Minnehaha. She’d been on three Sankofa trips and was eager for the students to participate.

Students from the two schools were introduced to each other at a group gathering last December 1. After that, they were expected to connect with their partner at least once before the trip as well as do some individual preparation.

Minor modifications were made for the trip. Due to time constraints the students didn’t visit as many sites as the adult trips. More discussion also was done in small groups.

Todhunter said one girl stood in front of the group and shared that her grandfather had been active in a white supremacist group and that she was ashamed. “Other girls told her that while that may be part of her history, it doesn’t have to be part of her future.”

A student from Hope Academy said afterward that the highlight of the trip for him had been when they ate at a restaurant in Memphis. “It dawned on me that 50 plus years ago, I would not been have been able to sit next to Tobias just because he is black. That made me happy because of the progress we as a culture have made; however, it saddens me that extreme racism still happens today. True reconciliation happens when we lay down our differences a the foot of the cross of Christ.”

Todhunter said she was thrilled that the students put racial reconciliation in the context of their faith. “We were all able to talk despite whatever disagreements there were.”

Students indicated that they wanted to continue the discussions on racial reconciliation, Todhunter said. She and Farmer are considering ways in which to do just that.

topics: church and race

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About the Author

Stan Friedman

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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1 Comment

  1. Stan, thanks for reaching out and wanting to do this story for us. We had an amazing God-inspiring time and I hope that it will spark a movement of similar trips in the ECC!

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