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African-American Resource Center: Sankofa Freedom Award

A guide to the holdings of the African-American Resource Center of the Tulsa City-County Library.

The meaning of "Sankofa"



A symbol of wisdon and learning from the past to build for the future (Literal meaning: Go Back to Fetch It)

Sankofa means "go back to the past in order to build for the future," or we should not forget our past when moving ahead. Sankofa is a realization of self and spirit. It represents the concepts of self-identity, redefinition and vision. It symbolizes an understanding of one's destiny and collective identity of the larger cultural group.

Sankofa is symbolic of the spiritual mind-set and cultural awakening African people were experiencing in the decades after independence on the African continent. The Sankofa bird is used to represent Sankofa. The symbol is of a bird turning its head backward and its long beak is turned in the direction of its tail.

-The Adinkra Dictionary by W. Bruce Willis

Keith Jemison, Rudisill Regional Library Manager; Alicia Latimer, AARC Coordinator; Hill Harper, 2012 Sankofa Winner; TCCL CEO Gary Shaffer

(back) Karen Ferrell; Saundra McGee; Sharon Louie; (front) Sharon Haynes; Pearl Cleage, 2010 Sankofa winner; Alicia Latimer

Alicia Latimer and Nikki Giovanni, 2008 Sankofa Winner

Tavis Smiley, author and social activist was the 2016 Sankofa Winner

Tavos Smiley, Social Activist, Author, Winner of Sankofa Award, 2016

Sankofa Freedom Award Criteria

The Sankofa Freedom Award was established in 2005 by the African American Resource Center and the Tulsa Library Trust.  The purpose of this biennial award is to recognize a nationally prominent author whose life's work positively addresses the range and complexity of cultural, economic and political issues affecting the greater African-American community.


The award consists of an engraved plaque and a prize of $10,000. The recipient will give a public address on the day of the awards presentation.

A Sankofa Author Selection Committee appointed by the AARC Coordinator determines the candidates for the award, without receipt of any applications from authors, publishers or outside nominators.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson 2006 Sankofa Winner

Susan L. Taylor received the Sankofa Freedom Award in 2014

New York Times best selling author, reality show star and spiritual advisor, Iyanla Vanzant, received the Sankofa Freedom Award, 2018

Iyanla Vanzant, New York Times Best Selling Author, attorney, Reality Show Host and Spiritual Advisor, received the Sankofa Freedom Award, 2018