Sheila Spencer

“In order to know your routes, you must know your roots.”

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.”  

Proverbs 1:5

One of my most treasured items is a piece of artwork from my journey to Ghana. It is a bird with its head turned backwards and represents sankofa. It is also represented as a stylized heart shape. Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates as “go back and get it” (san - to return; ko - to go; fa - to fetch, to seek and take). It is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates as: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” 

Dr. Carter G. Woodson understood the significance of sankofa. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915. This was birthed out of his recognition of the lack of information on the accomplishments of Blacks. The celebration of African-American history came directly out of ASALH. This year, ASALH’s 400th commemoration seeks to educate America and the global community about the arrival of Africans in the Virginia Colony and tell the story of the resilience of the African-American family, their contributions to America, and most of all, African-American perseverance over four centuries.

February is African-American History Month. My belief is that February is the kick off to acknowledging the achievements of African-Americans all month and all year-long. African-American history is American history. The sankofa is a timely symbol and reminder of the importance of knowing the past to understand our future. “To go back to your roots is to take the first step FORWARD. For it is in the past we find the path that leads to the present. And from the present we move on to the future.”   

There is power in knowing and telling our narrative. We have a rich history and legacy. We wrote, created, invented, built, trail blazed, pioneered, and persevered. Our faith also sustained us. Listen to the sages and holders of your family history and heritage.  Listen to the wisdom of the young as they share their perspective and viewpoint. Go back and get the wisdom to move forward. Go back and remember the lessons so you can teach others. Go back and sing the songs so they can inspire you to write new ones. Go back and remember those who sacrificed so that you could move forward. Go back and remember the prayers that were lifted up on our behalf so that you can continue to pray. Go back and remember the faith that sustained, and the spirits that persevered. Go back and get it … then go forward.

Help us to learn our lessons from the past, yet not make it our permanent habitation.  Instead let us revisit and remember what we learned from the past as we encounter each new situation. Ashe and Amen

Go back and get it.

For more information on the 400th commemoration and events in your community go to


Minister Sheila P. Spencer is an author, educator, poet and speaker. Contact her at, and her website is 

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