Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World


Written by: on March 2, 2024

Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word and the symbol is it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

The word is derived from the words:

  • SAN  (return)
  • KO  (go)
  • FA (look, seek and take)[1]

In my early career, at North Park University in Chicago, IL, I took on a deep dive into trying to understand race reconciliation and how to be an ally.  It was hard, I encountered it in my work in the residence halls and in participating in a trip called “Sankofa”.  We translated the word as “looking back, to move ahead” but I also like the translation above, “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”  When speaking on race and identity politics, what do we risk leaving behind?

In this class, we paired white students and staff with African American students and staff and met a few times in class and then we all boarded onto a grayhound bus, watched movies like Amistad and American History X as we traveled from Chicago to places like Atlanta, visiting MLK Jr.’s museum and church (Life changing to sit in the pews and hear him preach on a recording).  We visited Birmingham where the church was bombed and 4 girls died, Nashville where MLK, Jr was assassinated, we visited a lynching exhibit and a working plantation.  At this plantation is where I stepped through a threshold learning experience: The white tour guide spoke to our group about the slaves in the cotton fields and were “happy and singing”.  As you can imagine this set off the group in a way that I will never forget.  This poor woman doing her job and no idea what she had just stepped into, but I don’t think she’ll ever forget it!

Kenan Malik, in his book “Not So Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics”, takes on the task of “looking back”, in order to ask the question…How did we get here?  This book was heavy, both physically (not a light book) but in content.  How could it not be heavy in content, it is a very complicated conversation.  I struggled with trying to read this book, wether is was the topic or just the time of year.  I am 2 days late writing this blog.  I normally need some sort of space to find mental energy around it.  I apologize to my cohort for the late post.

I watched a lecture by Malik to try to gain understanding of what he was talking a about in this book.  He gave a detailed account of how our understanding of race has changed in the last century.  In summation, he makes note that the concept of race started as a way to justify behavior, so what in history was a class system became a race system.[2]  He spoke in his book and in this lecture to the barbarianism of humans.  He spoke of this through the Nazi German atrocities in the 20th century.  He notes, and it’s hard to process, that “There was no Nazi atrocity—concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women or Ghastly  blasphemy of childhood—which the Christian Civilization of Europe had not long been practicing against colored folk in all parts of the world in the name of and for the defence of a Superior Race born to rule the World”.[3] Humans can be responsible of the most beautiful moments and the absolute worst.  Malik makes the point that Nazi’s were indeed human and that their barbarianism is human.  We tend to want to dehumanize barbaric acts because it’s painful to think that humans can be responsible for such evil.   “For evil to endure it is said all that is required is to stand back and do nothing”.   Malik quotes  “Roman playwright Terrence’s  celebrated line Homo nihil a me alienum puto—“I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me”—it is difficult not to imagine Auschwitz as completely alien to the human experience. The savagery of the Nazi’s, and the final solution, seems beyond the grasp of humanness.  Yet, not only were Nazis human, but so was their barbarism.”[4]

What are we to do?

In Malik’s lecture, he quoted an author with the name France, “my black skin is not the wrapping of specific values. My solidarity is not  with those who share this identity, but with all those who share his ideals”.[5]    It is in this that we not only find ways to move forward with ideologies of peace, of justice and Mercy, but it also means we must be Sankofa.  We must “return, go, take and see”.  It is not taboo to go back and get what is in danger of being left behind!  All humans are imago dei.  We cannot abandon, or sit by and do nothing, when another’s dignity is being destroyed or left behind.  This is our call!

[1] https://www.berea.edu/centers/carter-g-woodson-center-for-interracial-education/the-power-of-sankofa

[2] https://www.youtube.com/live/zqeMka48Dj0?si=d9tlXDV0h-jNmykZ

[3] Malik, Kenan. Not So Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics. (London, C. Hurstand Co., 2023) 117.

[4]  Malik, 138.

[5] https://www.youtube.com/live/zqeMka48Dj0?si=d9tlXDV0h-jNmykZ

About the Author


Jana Dluehosh

Jana serves as a Spiritual Care Supervisor for Signature Hospice in Portland, OR. She chairs the corporate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee as well as presents and consults with chronically ill patients on addressing Quality of Life versus and alongside Medical treatment. She has trained as a World Religions and Enneagram Spiritual Director through an Anam Cara apprenticeship through the Sacred Art of Living center in Bend, OR. Jana utilizes a Celtic Spirituality approach toward life as a way to find common ground with diverse populations and faith traditions. She has mentored nursing students for several years at the University of Portland in a class called Theological Perspectives on Suffering and Death, and has taught in the Graduate Counseling program at Portland Seminary in the Trauma Certificate program on Grief.

4 responses to “Sankofa”

  1. Noel Liemam says:

    Hi, Jana, your posting is very interesting! ‘Sankofa,’ or getting what is at risk of being left behind, is ok. And ‘looking back to move head.’

    With regard to general leadership, how would this ‘Sankofa’ applied?

  2. Adam Harris says:

    Great post, late or not :)! Yes, this was a heavy book, I would say this view of race is a threshold concept for most of us. I had to watch videos, and reread portions to wrap my head around some of his ideas, it does make you realize that race and politics are not “black and white”. My video searches also led me to Thomas Sowell, in case you’ve never heard him, he is an African American academic and has very interesting ideas around race in America. I think he is a voice worth listening to for Americans. Loved the word (Sankofa) you shared at the beginning, something quick and useful to remember!

  3. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:


    We took a Sankofa Journey with our Church- the Sugarland Vineyard and the Raliegh Vineyard, two years ago. It was powerful and painful and life changing. We visited Birmingham, Memphis and Montogomery. Visiting the Lynching Museum, formally called the Equal Justice Initiative-National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montogomery, Alabama was heartbreaking. There are concrete pillars that hang from the ceiling that give the illusion of lynched bodies and inscribed on them are the names and dates of lynched victims. There is one for every county in the US that has lynched a person. It brought us all to our knees. In 2025, The Raliegh Vineyard is taking a Sankofa Journey to Ghana to visit the Slave Castles and The Door of No Return. Registration is still open.

  4. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Jana!

    It is an excellent post!

    I resonate with your thoughts regarding imago dei and sankofa. In my opinion, equality and justice mean embracing all and empowering all. Nothing should be left behind or ignored.

    You wrote, “It is in this that we not only find ways to move forward with ideologies of peace, of justice and Mercy, but it also means we must be Sankofa. We must “return, go, take and see”. It is “It’s not taboo to go back and get what is in danger of being left behind! All humans are imago dei. We cannot abandon, or sit by and do nothing, when another’s dignity is being destroyed or left behind. This is our call!”

    My question is, what simple actions can we take as a church or Christianity so that efforts to fight for equality and justice for all people can be realized based on the Sankofa concept that you mentioned in your post?

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