Sankofa: Reclaim Your Past, Unlock Your Future

African American male middle school students will explore & expand their identity through researching genealogy and family history records.

Photo of Harold Shields
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Two different classes of African American male students (6th grade; 7th/8th grade cohort) at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Middle School (MLK) will explore their own cultural identity through researching their genealogy, family trees, and family history records via The subject of this project is adolescent cultural identity formation. Providing access to this knowledge will play a vital role in this continuous identity construction, thus increasing self-esteem, self-efficacy and academic success. Students will generate two self-portraits to be displayed side by side – one to be completed "before" and one "after" their genealogical deep dive into their histories. Additionally, students will be given the opportunity to choose alternative artistic methods of expression to animate their findings, such as video, photography, sculpture, spoken word, or poetry.

Understanding where you come from geographically and who you are connected to by blood can lead to a centering sense of peace and belonging, excitement, and overall spur in engagement with learning that extends over to other projects. Conversely, the results could also take an emotional toll, which is why we plan to support students in their journey by building a strong classroom culture, including families explicitly in the process, and authentically modeling the steps first. The classroom teachers will complete the entire project during the prior semester by following the same procedures, and then reveal their personal story, results of research, and artistic reflection to the students at the onset of the project.

The culminating event will be a gallery night at the African American Art & Culture Complex in San Francisco to celebrate student artistic reflections on the process of discovering their past and implications for their future. Their self-portraits will be exhibited there and will later find a permanent home on the MLK campus. Families will be picked up by shuttle at the school site to participate in a celebration evening gala at the African American Art & Culture Complex that will include dinner and art walks along with speaking engagements by students in which they share their learnings, understandings and future goals based on their unit of study to be included. It is our hope that this project will reach deep to empower students and families.

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- Students will gain a deeper understanding of history and their individual, specific place in it

- Students will increase their knowledge of genetics, cultural heritage and primary source/historical data

- Students will research and trace their family generations back with a family tree, potentially uncovering undiscovered ethnicity(ies)

- Students will explore identity transformation through artistic expression, creating a self-portrait pre and post-research

- Students will reflect weekly on cultural and individual identity through personal journaling and collective academic discourse


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gaynor Brown

Hi Harold

This sounds really interesting. Have you already started this project? If so what kind of feedback are you getting?


Photo of Harold Shields

Ms. Brown:
Haven't started project rollout yet, still collaborating on curriculum design but recently presented the idea to colleagues during a Critical Friends protocol and received excellent feedback.

Photo of Gaynor Brown

Glad you had good feedback - let us know how it progresses - it is always interesting to see what you learn and which changes you make - iteration is so important with these projects - I know I never get it right the first time round :-)