January 25, 2017
Solange bought 250 books for Howard University students at DC’s Sankofa Video Books and Cafe
by Simon Reichley
This past weeked was what you might call a mixed bag. On the one hand, Americans across the country and their comrades around the world gathered in record numbers to oppose the presidency of Donald Trump and to support a rigorously progressive and intersectional political platform. On the other hand, we are now living in an Orwellian nightmare none of us is truly prepared for. Yes, some anonymous lunkhead rang Richard Spencer’s bell—and it was cathartic—but that doesn’t really change the fact that neo-Nazi’s now have a place at the table. Chuck Schumer gave what was by all accounts a rousing speech at the New York march on Saturday. He has also completly and disgustingly failed to meaningfully oppose a single one of Trump’s cabinet nominations.
But really, who needs Chuck Schumer’s busted ass when you’ve got folks like Solange Knowles, who spent Saturday afternoon at D.C.’s Sankofa Video Books and Cafe speaking to a crowd of hundreds and buying attendees books. Knowles—whose 2016 album A Seat at the Table was one of the three or four good things to come out of that wretched anno domini—was in town for Busboys and Poets’ Peace Ball, held the night before Trump’s inauguration at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. According to a write up in the Washingtonian, she had originally hoped to hold a speaking event at Howard University, the renowed, historically black university in northwest DC. On learning that the campus would be closed for the inauguration, Knowles quickly moved her event to nearby Sankofa, a black-owned bookstore specializing in “videos and books about people of African descent around the world.”
Sankofa was founded in 1997 by filmmakers Haile and Shirikiana Gerima and has been a cornerstone of the capital’s African American community ever since, weathering—as Shirikana put it last year—a “wildfire” of gentrification that has been transforming DC at a staggering pace. Responding to Knowles’s appearance at the store, Shirikiana had this to say:
“For Solange to feel like [Sankofa] is a touchstone for when times get challenging is rewarding for us. We hope to be the kind of place for anybody who needs to remember that what we’re facing is not new, and that there are people who have stood up to harder things. They’ve left messages and symbols and signs about how to go about this kind of thing. They made it, and we can make it.”
This is, of course, one of the invaluable qualities of the written word. Books can hold on to our history for us, even when we think we won’t need it any more. They can be messages and symbols reminding us that we can fight and win, if not without sacrifice. And we can pass them around. We can use them to create communities of thought and shared value at a time when we need solidarity in the face of a shared enemy.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.