Even though gentrification has challenged several small businesses in the District, the owners of a local Black bookstore continue to hope it will remain in business based on customers’ devotion to its unique subject matter at a time when major bookstore chains such as Barnes and Nobles are leaving.
Sankofa Video Books & Café, a retail establishment in the District since 1997, provides books, videos, and programming created by people of African Descent to encourage reflection. The store holds events that teach up-and-coming filmmakers about techniques in the industry, while featuring Black writers and film directors including Sistah Souljah, Sonja Sanchez, Eloise Greenfield, and many others.
“The population that we serve still feels the strain, and they come to Sankofa like it’s an oasis. If there’s no Black customer, there’s no Sankofa,” Shirikiana Gerima, one of the store’s co-owners, told the AFRO.
According to Gerima, recent marches in D.C. such as the “Justice or Else” March and the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March helped generate large amounts of business. Though Gerima was absent the day of the “Justice or Else” March, she heard about the influx customers through her husband and workers. “It was one of our best weekends” Gerima said. “ told me it was just packed, and people were coming in . . . they just flooded the place.”
Before Sankofa, an Adinkra term meaning “going back to our past in order to go forward,” became known a bookstore, it was the name of an independent film that Gerima and her husband Haile, the other owner of the store, produced. The film gained international success, obtaining several awards, but was not as widely accepted in America. According to the company’s website, the owners ordeal attempting to get the film shown in this country inspired the idea of the store – what community and artist teamwork could accomplish?
“At that time, VHS tapes were the form of video” Gerima said. “So we converted them to VHS and rented here, and also sold them to universities . . . The idea was we wanted to make people respect films the way that good literature was respected.”
Gerima and her husband are working on adding a theatre for future screenings. She is also moving forward with her film project, which has taken a while to finish due to funding issues.
However, Gerima said, with her helpful staff and a deeply-rooted family structure at Sankofa, she believes she can take time off from growing her business to finish her production. “We’ll be here as long as the Black community makes sure that we’re still here.” Gerima said.
Upcoming events at the bookstore include an Ethiopian Christmas Commemoration and celebration on Jan. 7, a Rastafarian Study circle on Jan. 9, a taping of the online news show “All Eyes on D.C.” on Jan. 15, and a Sip and Paint event on Jan. 16. For more information, visit sankofa.com.