Sankofa: a tribute to Black stories

Feb. 23, 2024, 1:30 p.m. | By Betty Seleshi | 1 month, 4 weeks ago

A riveting example of Black excellence

On Thursday, Feb. 15, Blair hosted its annual Sankofa showcase. Directed by Summer Roark, the show ran for three days with Saturday's show being pushed to Feb. 18 due to snow cancellation—but that didn’t deter performers. The showcase featured a beautifully talented ensemble that emphasized the immense versatility of Blair's diverse student body. From jazz-inspired music to a story highlighting the importance of spirituality in Black culture, this year Sankofa was the epitome of greatness. 

The show started with a tribute to the late Pamela Bryant-Hollins, who served as co-director for the production during her tenure at Blair as well as an inspiration to those around her, guiding students to strive for all they could. As stated in the program “[Bryant-Hollins] served as the spiritual voice of the production invoking the ancestors, leading students to know themselves and the importance of identity and history.” Bryant-Hollins passed away on Jan. 15. The show illustrates just how much her life has influenced the traditions Blazers hold near and dear.

After a moment of silence for Bryant-Hollins and a performance of the Black national anthem—“Lift Every Voice And Sing”—the first act began. 

This year's storyline centered around “a journey of African American resistance through hair.” Through the lens of a barber shop, the show delved into community, history, and brotherhood. Hair is one of the most important parts of Black culture; traditions and styles are passed down from generation to generation to forge the "hair game" today. The main message of the story called attention to the sacrifices and support found within the Black community, and man, did it do a great job. 

The cast's acting had a sitcom-like energy, with engaging scenes and natural dialogue, and best of all—it didn’t take itself too seriously, which made for an overall good time. The dynamic between characters Calvin Davis (Darryl Wormley) and Lauryn Williams (Ayalse Majors) was full of spirit, as they brought their characters to life with their back-and-forth sarcasm and undeniable camaraderie revealed in their on stage chemistry. The impromptu wig snatching throughout the play prompted uproars of laughter from the crowd. 

Following the first act, the first dance of the night was an Ethio-Eritrean (Habesha) inspired dance in traditional Habesha attire. This was a much-needed representation of one of the biggest populations of Blair's student body and set the stage for everything else to come. 

In the second act, sophomore Yeabsira Mekonnen delivered a chilling performance of “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder. Her powerful voice, filled with emotion and poise, reached each end of the room and every heart listening. Her confidence was clear from the start, as she owned every moment on stage.

Mekonnen’s dazzling performance was followed by a show-stopping dance routine—featuring dancers such as Zuri Smith and Rachelle Caslin— to the remixed version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. With absolutely unmatched coordination, the dancers moved as a unit, working seamlessly together to create an electric work of art. 

One of the most incredible showcases of the night was the Step team performance, choreographed with the help of senior Sidratu Conteh. The group danced at a professional level—their expressions illuminated their dancing, while their speed and undying agility grew stronger with every step they took. The steps were inspired by Conteh’s time in Eastern middle school and served as nostalgia for not only the dancers but also Eastern Alumni in the crowd. 

Senior Mekides Dixon has been tuning in to Sankofa for the last two years and has nothing but praise to say about the Step team. “One of the cleanest acts of the night…I just wish they had more time on stage,” Dixon said. 

The highlight of the fifth act was Junior Miles Fischer's sultry jazz-infused rendition of “Money is King'' by Leyla McCalla with Quari Headly and Siri Laney as iridescent dancers. Fischer’s voice, breathy and honeyed with perfection, created an ambiance that was one of the best of the night and one to be remembered.

Music was the soul of the whole night; from heart-pounding percussion to booming voices to soundtrack-level playing, the talented Blazers in the pit amplified the wonders of the night. Music was one of the highlights of the night, but the dancing sure gave it a run for its money. 

Blazer Hannah Germain leads Sankofa singer Photo courtesy of Thea Womack.

Of course, we cannot forget the amazing stage crew, who built a jaw-dropping set that was the heart of the show. The night ended with a fashion show featuring the entirety of the cast, with students decked out in traditional attire from all over Africa. Looking up at the stage gave a deeper meaning to versatility, as even non-Black students wore and embraced traditional attire. 

Senior and co-director Colette Atsame, who has been a part of Sankofa since her sophomore year, described Sankofa as a bridge between herself and her peers, in which they were able to lift each other up in a breathtaking exemplar of community. 

Woven throughout the night was an homage to the foundation of Black history; religion and spirituality. From a self-discovery monologue by Wormley's character Calvin, to the gospel-choir-like performance of “O-o-h Child” (Five Stairsteps) by a small group of singers that followed, the addition of a deeper spiritual message was especially important to Atsame as she believes it portrays the real lives of everyday African Americans. “I think it's important to add spirituality because it's a big part of the Black/African American community whether you like it or not. It's a huge part of how we think and how we operate. It’s great that we show the good side of religion and how it impacts African Americans,” Atsame said. 

More than a production, Sankofa is and has always been a chance for individuals to look within themselves and others as well as to respect and acknowledge the journey and hardship of the Black story. Sankofa, a word originating from the Akan tribe of Ghana, is represented by a mythical bird that flies forward while facing backward—a message to always look back in remembrance to those who paved the path before you. This show embodies that message and truly takes the words of the Black national anthem to heart by lifting every voice to showcase Black stories all around.  

Last updated: Feb. 23, 2024, 1:49 p.m.

Betty Seleshi. Hi, my name is Betty (bay-tea) Seleshi- I'm a SCO writer. My favorite show is psych and I love Smallville/everything Superman. More »

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