Sankofa Reflection 2023: Go Back and Get What?!

Jon at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site on the Sankofa trip
Jon at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

I’ve had the privilege of being on a few Sankofa trips, and it’s amazing to me how God always reveals something new on each trip. On this past October’s trip, God remained faithful in dispensing some nuggets of knowledge to me.  

Sankofa was different for me this year because it was the first time that I went on the trip with both of my parents gone. With the backdrop of this season of life and the kerfuffle happening in the Middle East, it seemed that there was a specific message God wanted to share with me. 

On the first Sankofa trip I ever took I meditated a little bit on the word Sankofa itself: Go back and get it. “Get what?” I thought. “What do I need to remember to make the future better? My people and I didn’t create this mess.”  

If any of those thoughts lingered after the number of trips I’ve been on, then God resoundingly answered those questions on this trip.  

Going Back… 

“Going back” this time brought me to my childhood. The visit to the Tuskegee Airmen Museum reminded me of an experience I had when I was around 11. My siblings and I would go out and play in my dad’s car after he came home from work. We would rummage through his glove compartment to find out what candy or money he had that we could pilfer.  

One day we found some weird-looking trinkets and a crumpled-up piece of paper with some funny jokes on it. I remember straightening out the paper and bringing it to school to show my teacher the jokes that we found about jigaboos and porch monkeys. She snatched the paper out of my hand and gave it back to me at the end of the day in an envelope addressed to my mom.  

When I got home, I gave the envelope to my mom. She read it and then emphatically explained that the jokes on that paper weren’t funny. They were jokes that were given to my dad by his white co-workers. He had to take the paper, the little monkey and mammie figurines, and the Brazil nuts (known as nigger toes). He had to laugh with his white “friends” in order to keep his job.  

My dad was in the Army. He served his country to come home and be ridiculed and minimized at his work.  

I remember in my younger years my mom saying, “Don’t trust whitey” (she changed her stance as we got older). I was confused because we had nice white people all around us. This year it clicked. Mom lived in the era of Jim Crow with separate water faucets, bathrooms, and restaurants. She saw my great aunt be the “help” for a white family and forcibly neglect her own family.  

…to Get It 

Taking this journey with the backdrop of the current events in the Middle East, God took me back even further through scripture. He showed me that the injustice I witnessed is not just an American thing or a white thing but a sin thing. As a black man I ask, “what am I going back to get?” As a Christian I say, “how shameful it is that my people participated in this and let us never do it again.”  

God showed me on this trip that racism, prejudice, and forced subservience are stems of the root problem of sin. This has happened throughout history with other nations and other people groups. We will see this happen again, but we must be mindful of our past (going back) and intentional about calling out and correcting this sinful behavior through the love of God (let’s get it). 

Jon Willis is the founder of Kogiah ministries. God has given Jon a heart to reach the marginalized with a message of hope and change for their lives. He has served in different ministries for over 20 years in the South Minneapolis area, and he’s excited to see what God will do in the coming years.

December 11, 2023