Record turnout for annual Sankofa Conference


More than 250 students representing nine different schools made this year’s Sankofa Conference at Bloomsburg University the largest yet.

Headlined by Yusef Salaam, one of the exonerated Central Park Five, the 25th annual conference kicked off with a keynote lecture on his experience of being falsely accused when he was just 15 years old, then convicted of assault and rape of jogger Trisha Meili, and later fully exonerated. Salaam was one of five boys charged, who collectively became known as the “Central Park Five.”

In 2002, after the boys spent between seven and 13 years of their lives behind bars, their sentences were overturned after a convicted murderer and rapist serving a life sentence confessed to the attack on Meili.

“I enjoyed having Yusef Salaam speak to us,” said Mirlie Larose, a mass communications major. “It was an honor having someone who experienced what he had talk to us. He said something that stuck with me which was, ‘Our differences should bring us together.’ Which is important, because society always wants to be divided.”

Sankofa, sponsored and coordinated by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, grew out of the need for students to learn, understand, and appreciate the rich cultural heritage of people of African descent. The conference has been developed as a way to promote unity and understanding among students, providing a forum for discussion and learning.

Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, translated to “it is not taboo to fetch what is a risk of being left behind.”

“My favorite aspect of this year’s conference was just being in one place with many people of color from different schools and walks of life, and being able to discuss some of the things we go through and that we can grow through together,” said Kayla Barnett, criminal justice major. “This conference helps me not only professionally but mentally, because we discussed things from how to be a mentor to how to keep our mental health intact, which is a very important topic we need to break the stigma of not discussing.”

Conference sessions covered such topics as personal perception, cultural leadership, activism, confidence, financial success, mentorship, mental health, generational impact and personal identity.

“A key takeaway and lesson that I learned from the, “I just took a DNA test turns out I’m, 100% toxic,” session (my favorite session) was that it’s okay to break away from certain relationships because you aren’t the same person you were before,” Larose said. “It’s okay to let go. Sometimes we act the way we do due to trauma. And trauma could be something as simple as you being the older sibling, and always feeling like you have to watch out for everyone else.”

More than 250 students registered for the conference. It’s highest total in its 25 years, according to Madelyn Rodriguez, director of the Multicultural Center.

Eight different schools in addition to BU were represented to include West Chester, Lock Haven, Wilkes, Scranton, Philadelphia Community College, The College of New Jersey, Kings and Elizabethtown.

“The smallest things you do or say can impact someone’s life in many ways, so always be honest and stay positive to shed a light on someone else’s life,” Barnett said. “Sankofa is such a great experience, and I’ll continue to encourage everyone to go every year because it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Larose added, “Every year I look forward to the Sankofa Conference, because I know I’ll learn a whole lot and connect with many students who share the same experiences as me.”