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Sankofa: Lessons in Returning to Our Roots

By John Broadway



A couple of months ago, a colleague of mine was about to present her life story. But first, she stopped to thank and acknowledge her ancestors. 

When she did this, something in me snapped. Emotions flared, and I instantly teared up. That moment was a reminder that I’ve felt a piece of my spirit missing: the connection to my ancestors, my indigenous heritage, my roots. 

I’ve been in the process of seeking to establish this connection. I took a DNA test, and for my birthday in May, I will tour the African countries (Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and Mali) where my ancestors originated. 

When I posted my results and intentions online, a family member connected me to our family historian, Eugene Broadway. When Eugene and I connected, he told me about his trip to Ghana and the book he was inspired to gather other Broadway’s to create: “Discovering Our African Culture: African-American Culture Beyond Slavery.”

This book was the perfect read for Black history month. As stated in the book: “Slavery is where many people think that African-American history began, but the fact is that point is where our history is entangled, stripped, hidden, and denied textbook pages.”

Rather than discuss all of the historical and cultural details this book provides, I’ll briefly share what resonated most for me in the book and my interview with Eugene after reading it. Ultimately, I hope this will inspire other African-Americans to reconnect with their roots as well. 

“Our family is more about just family reunions; we are about “Giving back to the entire Black race.” 

–Eugene Broadway 

Eugene Kwame Broadway in Kumasi, Ghana 2016


I’ve always felt somewhat of a disconnect between my family and me. My dad introduced my siblings and me to some of them, but we didn’t know most of them. He always said it was because the Broadway side was full of “bums.” I never knew much if anything of my family history other than that. 

With this in mind, you can imagine the immense pride that swelled when I read a book created by family members, one that detailed some family history as well! Too often, negativity surrounds Black families, and that becomes our reality. Seeing our ancestors in a different, more positive light can do wonders for our outcomes. 

Still, this history lesson came with a price. However, I was shaken to my core when I discovered that the man who enslaved my ancestors was also named John Broadway. I’ve always loved my name for how distinct and memorable it is, but realizing I bear the namesake of our enslaver made me sick to my stomach.

Although that was tough, I can appreciate the inner dialogue and action it’s spurred. Now I’m looking within to discern if my spirit calls for a new name or reclaim John Broadway as my own. Whatever I decide, there’s an empowerment that comes with that decision. 


“There’s something in your genetics that has some kind of effect from Africa.” 

–Eugene Broadway 


The most impactful revelation Eugene shares is the spiritual awakening when returning to one’s roots. The same colleague I mentioned earlier told me about this before I spoke to Eugene. She shared her experience returning to her native land in Mexico and how her spirit felt connected to the place like it had been there before. When I spoke with Eugene, he expressed feeling the same phenomenon in eerily similar wording. 

It can be so difficult finding words to describe or rationalize spiritual experiences. But that doesn’t take away from their power. Both times I heard my colleague and Eugene discuss this feeling they got from their native land, I began to tear up. The emotion comes from my spirit as its yearning is piqued. Just talking about this reconnection that’s in store for me makes my soul feel something so tangible yet so hard to describe. 


“Discovering the Adinkra Symbols is what we’re all about.”

–Eugene Broadway 

Discovering Adinkra was one of Eugene’s biggest takeaways from his trip. The Adinkra symbols are from Ghana and represent values revered in the culture. They mirror a structure of universal human values: family, integrity, tolerance, harmony, determination, and protection.

Adinkra symbols originate from nature, and others stem from intuitive perception, emotional experience, or rational reflection. 

I was excited to learn about these Adinkra symbols because they’re a tangible connector to our heritage; moreover, they offer positive guidance. 

I became so excited I learned that Kente cloth, the best known of all African textiles and one of the most admired of all fabrics worldwide, often features these Adinkra symbols on them. 

This was significant because I’ve always been interested in wearing Kente and other African clothing but felt that I lacked the cultural connection and context to do so. Now I had the understanding that would guide me to wear Kente with intention. There’s a lot of power in manifesting the energy of these symbols through our clothes, jewelry, and other items. 


Visually and symbolically, “Sankofa” is expressed as a mythic bird that flies forward while looking backward with an egg (symbolizing the future) in its mouth. This ties with our motto: “In order to understand our present and ensure our future, we must know our past.”


Sankofa is the symbol that currently resonates the most with me. It translates to retrieve or go back and get. “Sankofa” teaches us that we must go back to our roots to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved, and perpetuated.




John Broadway is a second-year Ally (Los Angeles ’22) and currently serves as the Coaching and Mentorship Coordinator for the ESP Education & Leadership Institute. If you enjoyed the article, follow John on Medium to read more

This piece is part of Public Allies’ campaign to highlight voices of Black Allies, alumni, staff, and partners throughout Black History Month.