Sankofa’s leadership, pictured here, recently raised the Pan African flag at Newport city hall to celebrate Black History Month. (The Pan-African flag was created in 1920 to represent people of the African Diaspora and to symbolize black liberation in the United States. As flags symbolize the union of governance, people, and territory, this flag was created to give Black people in America and the world over a symbol that unifies the Diaspora. This tri-color flag consists of three equal horizontal bands colored Red, Black, and Green)  The flag will be there all of February 2021.

From left to right: Nycole “Marvelous” Matthews (Vice President), Ellen Pinnock (President), Niko Merritt (Founding Executive Director). – Photo by Kate Cantwell.

As you likely know, FabNewport’s mission is to “Inspire the maker in all of us.” As an organization, we initially focused on inspiring youth to make things as a way to gain new skills. Now our focus is increasingly on helping middle and high school students “make their lives” more broadly. Partnering with FabNewport to help with this is a Newport-based non-profit organization called Sankofa Community Connection. This local non-profit is working to increase “pride of place” within Newport County’s African American community. As part of our celebration of Black History Month, we want to introduce you to Sankofa Community Connection and the three women who run it.

Sankofa’s leadership team consists of Niko Merritt (Founding Executive Director), Ellen Pinnock (President), and Nycole “Marvelous” Matthews (Vice President). These three women have many things in common: they are all BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People Of Color) residents of Newport County, they all have children that have participated in FabNewport activities, they all see a need for an organization that would bring awareness, encouragement and education to empower the BIPOC and African American community in Newport County, and they all also currently work at FabNewport.           

Niko, who founded Sankofa in 2016 says “I wanted to build a platform where I could speak freely about lived Black experiences, to be vocal about things that needed to be changed and to encourage and uplift my community.” One of Sankofa’s of primary objectives as shown in their value statement is “to disrupt inequalities and injustice within our community and schools.” The Trust & Equity Alliance addresses this value, here are additional ways that Sankofa show up in the community:

– Community events and gatherings to increase our social cohesion 
– Community Meetings where we discuss the impact of institutional racism and racial oppression to promote dialogue and create solutions to the issues  
– Historical Education to reveal, honor and celebrate the cultural heritage of African Americans of early Newport. 

Having come out of the FabNewport model of “making,” Sankofa’s leaders are continuing that practice as part of their organization’s work. One example is Melanin Sol Creations, which Sankofa helped launch. Melanin Sol Creations makes products for everyone and specializes in custom designs that celebrate Black Culture. These products include mugs, masks, t-shirts, earrings, tumblers, custom notebooks and daypacks. 

In the picture: On the left, earrings made by Melanin Sol at FabNewport. On the right, FabNewport students sublimating masks, designed and created at Melanin Sol.

Until recently, Sankofa had only a virtual existence, via their Facebook page and local venues, in 2016 Sankofa started by holding community meetings at Gather Herbs on Broadway after that most of the work was done from home. After a few years of incubation and enormous efforts from Sankofa’s founder, Niko, on December 5, 2020, Sankofa celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony at their new physical space in Newport’s Broadway District. This is exciting news for FabNewport for two reasons. First, we are excited to see Sankofa make their big dream become more of a reality. Second, their new physical home benefits FabNewport because, through our collaboration, our staff and students will make things and lives in two makers spaces – FabNewport and Sankofa. 

Sankofa’s growth hasn’t come easily. As Ellen, who serves as president of the organization, explains, “It’s always harder being the first one at anything. Significant challenges exist, like creating trust in the community and doing what we do through Sankofa. However, we know we are opening space for new generations to speak up and use their voices.”

Creating that trust between organizations and the community while giving voice to the new generation who is often unheard is the purpose behind Sankofa’s newest undertaking: establishing a Trust and Equity Alliance (TEA) for the Newport Community. TEA started out of an idea from community organizations including FabNewport. Under Sankofa’s leadership, the goal is to create a trusting relationship and assist local organizations to improve the end user’s experiences of the services they provide and to empower our students and community to advocate for themselves and each other.  Ellen and Niko are co-leaders of this alliance.

Sankofa provides anti-racist education to local organizations in order for them to better serve the entire community. The TEA is working directly with community in identifying issues that need to be addressed, hosting workshops and building relationships. The bi-weekly meetings that they hold with these organizations include participation from community members as community feedback and equity in decision making is vital to our work.

FabNewport has supported Sankofa in both an advisory and empowerment role by allowing Sankofa to take the lead on the TEA, and we are pleased that they now have a formal organization and physical space in which to advance their important work in equity and pride of place. Niko says “Through the years, FabNewport has demonstrated a true commitment to the community. FabNewport staff and co-workers have been here every step of the way to support Sankofa -from attending local community events to offering support with curriculum building, to going to speeches that we gave in Providence- the support has been vast. Personally, my family has experienced FabNewport as members of the community and we have built a boat as a family, I have learned how to use the laser printer- a new skill that allowed me to make earrings, I have also learned how to screen print t-shirts, my son has a newfound confidence through attending the Newport Experience Summer Camp that helps him navigate his education at the East Bay Met, his interactions with adults and his internships in real life. We are so grateful for our relationship with FabNewport. The impact that they have on the community is unmatched, I have personally and professionally witnessed them actually making lives better for our youth and their families” Equally so, FabNewport is pleased to be an active member of Sankofa’s Trust and Equity Alliance. And that’s why we at FabNewport wanted to introduce them to you, as we value our partnership and wanted to highlight such an important organization in our community.

You can read more about Sankofa here.