Case Western Reserve University Law Black 3L Students marked their impending graduation with their first ever Sankofa Celebration. Held Wednesday, April 28, in-person on the lawn next to the Law School and livestreamed, the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) Inaugural Sankofa event was an opportunity to reflect upon and affirm students’ achievements. It was a fitting celebration especially in this year of BLSA’s 50th Anniversary.
“Sankofa” is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” Sankofa symbolizes the Akan people’s quest for knowledge based on critical examination of one’s history, and thoughtful interrogation of the present with a keen sense of responsibility for one’s future. Importantly, the proverb implies the highest value in acknowledging those in one’s past who have bestowed upon us knowledge, wisdom, fortitude and resilience.
Rite of Sankofa celebrations have been a feature of higher education commencement events for decades. Sankofa graduations typically include song, speakers, awards, and student reflections. More than anything, Sankofa celebrations are an affirmation of students’ achievements, perseverance and bright futures. This heartwarming celebration was no different.
With Co-Deans Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf in attendance, the Sankofa celebration featured a rousing rendition of the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” by 3L Shalanda Plowden. The celebration also featured inspiring spoken messages.
- Graduating 3L student Russell Hauser, chosen by BLSA members as the inaugural Student of the Year, urged his peers to look out for each other as they move into the profession.
- Introduced by Dean Berg, Judge Emanuella D. Groves (LAW ‘81) of the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals counseled the graduating students to always strive to make a positive impact in every space they come to occupy, consistently asking the question “Why am I here?”
- Assistant Professor Ayesha Hardaway (LAW ’04) spoke of the importance of remaining grounded, ensuring that social justice informs all aspects of their future endeavors, and carrying the inspiration of those who have molded them.
- At the event, BLSA honored Judge Groves with its first ever Alumna of the Year Award and Professor Hardaway with its first Teacher of the Year Award. The highlight of the ceremony came as the 3L students were draped with a kente stole commemorating their membership in the CWRU Law Class of 2021.
The Sankofa proverb is symbolized by a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backwards, as if surveying its past, while an egg symbolizes the future. The stole that drapes graduating students is also a feature of the Rite of Sankofa, and is made of kente, a woven cloth. Kente cloth weaving goes back almost 400 years, and originated in the region today known as Ghana. Kente cloth patterns, colors, and designs vary, representing a particular story or theme. However, the Kente cloth tradition holds a different value to people of African-descent who are products of the transcontinental diaspora, and is displayed or worn in honor of their ancestral heritage or as a symbol of resilience in the wake of that displacement.
The School of Law intends to continue to honor Black CWRU Law graduating students and their achievements by making the Rite of Sankofa a part of commencement events going forward.