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       It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.

By Jaye Nias, StoryFile Visiting Researcher and Assistant Professor, Spelman College

The principle of Sankofa, which translates to “go back and fetch it”, holds a special place in the hearts of Black Americans of the African Diaspora due to its cultural and personal significance. Sankofa is derived from the Twi language of the Ashante people of Ghana and is often interpreted as “Returning to the past, to move forward.” Black History Month, which was started as Negro History Week in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, is one of the earliest Sankofa moments that celebrates and shares our historical legacies.

From its inception to the present-day recognition of Black contributions to American history and culture, Black History Month continues to gain traction and hold a sacred and necessary space for Black people to celebrate their cultures, innovations, legacies of resilience, and contributions to the world. By acknowledging the importance of Black history, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the struggles and triumphs of Black people and ensure that their stories are not lost to the passage of time.

“Culture is coded wisdom.”   -Wangari Maathai

When progress happens, specifically in technical landscapes, what often goes unspoken is the value of maintaining and propagating historical and cultural artifacts that can be replaced by modern technological adaptations. Culturally rooted knowledge and resources are often taken for granted by Western societies, and globalization is putting many cultural factors at risk. When a culture is not shared and passed on, many other values aligned with it are also lost.

These artifacts can include proverbs, fables, customs, medicines, therapies, and other intangible yet powerful codified wisdom of that community’s impact on the world. While technological immersion is often attributed to globalization, companies like StoryFile are monopolizing the powerful influence of socio-technical interactions to create technology that preserves and propagates cultural stories and legacies, and this is powerfully important work that I am grateful to be a part of creating.

“Until the Lions tell their stories,

the tail of the hunt will always glorify the hunters”  

– African Proverb

Dr. Clarence Jones’ storyfile-created in partnership with
Spill the Honey-will be available in mid-2023. 

In the late summer of 2022, I had the privilege of serving as a content expert and interviewer for Dr. Clarence B. Jones, an incomparable Lion who played a significant role in the Civil Rights movement as a trusted advisor and speechwriter for Martin Luther King Jr. Jones was instrumental in helping King draft and deliver some of his most famous speeches, including the “I Have a Dream” speech. Spending weeks consuming his writings, lectures, and speeches, I came to know much about his work with the Civil Rights Movement and his relationship with Dr. King and other notable figures.

What I was unaware of was that I had only scratched the surface of the impact that Dr. Jones has made in his lifetime. I was in the presence of a giant and a living iconoclast. His presence in many spaces including Hollywood, Wall Street, Attica, UCSF, and other places, was revolutionary and transformational. Dr. Jones is a passionate wordsmith who often used his brilliance and voice in support of the Lions.  Studying his life forever edified my mind, and the short time spent recording his storyfile left an indelible mark on my heart.

There is an African proverb that says, “When an elder dies, a library is burned to the ground.” Each storyfile contains a bit of each library of each history maker, preserving the knowledge, wisdom, and experiences of elders and culture keepers of many communities. As a Black woman of the African Diaspora whose ancestors were violently stolen from their homeland, I know all too well the feeling of displacement from my indigenous roots as I seek to ‘fetch it’ from the past.

Knowing that StoryFile has preserved these experiences gives me hope that future generations will be inspired, like myself, to move the needle of progress forward for our society and people. I look forward to expanding the research efforts of Storyfile to increase engagement and accessibility of these engagements with broader audiences within’ African-American communities.

To explore other storyfiles in the Black Voices Collections, go here.

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