Sankofa brings together African American community on campus

By Heather Urquides
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 21, 1996

Kimberly Bowie moved to Tucson to start her new job as a UA Residence Life area coordinator about a year ago. She liked her job, but felt alone in the new city.

Meanwhile, statistics were making their way to Assistant Dean of Students Veda Hunn's desk about the ethnic make-up of faculty, staff and personnel at the university. Hunn was shocked to realize there were over 220 self-identified African American professors and employees on campus.

She said, "OK, so where are they?"

That's how the idea for Sankofa began - as a quest to connect the African American faculty and staff on campus.

When Bowie heard about the idea to begin such an organization, she said she was excited. She became one of the motivating forces behind the year-old organization, which celebrated its anniversary Friday.

At the celebration, Terence Burke, associate to University of Arizona President Manuel Pacheco, read a statement from Pacheco which said Sankofa is now officially recognized as a UA organization. Pacheco was unable to attend the presentation that had about 40 people there.

According to its mission statement, Sankofa's purpose is to serve African American faculty, classified staff and appointed personnel by providing intellectual, social and cultural support systems within the UA campus and Tucson community. The association is meant to strengthen African American leadership and visibility while enhancing the quality of experience for African Americans at the UA, it stated.

Because of Sankofa, Bowie said she now feels Tucson is more of a home.

"Over the course of the year, I've really had a support group," Bowie said. She said she has gained new friends and colleagues, has found a church, a sorority and a hairdresser, all through recommendations from Sankofa members.

Bowie stressed that Sankofa is not a social organization, but rather a venue to build a network between African Americans within the UA and Tucson communities.

"We want to become a much more visible force on campus," Bowie said, speaking of UA African American faculty and staff.

"It's very easy to park your car, go to your department, and never see anyone else of your race," Bowie said.

Bobby Browning, College of Agriculture program coordinator and Sankofa member, said, "In a community like UA and Arizona in general, it's important for African Americans to see each other and meet."

Because African Americans comprise only 2 to 3 percent of Arizona's population, it's important for these individuals to see some of the same faces, he said.

Fred Wiggins, a psychologist with Campus Health Service and Sankofa member, said he thinks the organization is important because African Americans are located in so many different places around campus and without Sankofa, only a small percentage of them would come in contact with one another.

Through Sankofa, Wiggins said he has been able to act as a mentor to students, and he feels students have benefited from the events the organization has sponsored.

Although Sankofa was founded to provide African American employees a chance to meet each other, it also has tried to help students. In the year since its conception, three forums "Exhaling All Over the Place," "Issues in Higher Education," and "Stop the Hatred: Racism on Campus and the Tucson Community" have been held to deal with issues related to African Americans. About 200 people from the UA and greater Tucson community have attended these events.

Sankofa's activities are sponsored by its approximately 60 members, who pay $20 dues annually.

Other events sponsored by Sankofa during the past year have included an ice cream social for African American students enrolled in the summer program New Start, and participating in events with the African American Cultural Center.

Wiggins said members of Sankofa are also encouraged to participate in other campus organizations as a way "to broaden the impact of Sankofa."

"We want the impact to be across campus and not limited to the African American community," he said.