Sankofa: A Legacy Continued

by Alexis Becraft


The Purdue Pioneering Award was conceived in recognition of Frieda and Winifred Parker, of Indianapolis, who were the first Black women to live in the dormitories at Purdue University in 1946. The Inaugural presentation of this distinction was during the Sagamore Sankofa Awards Banquet held during the Purdue Homecoming festivities of October, 2015. This award was conceived to recognize achieving women of Purdue heritage.


Purdue alumnus James Bly first became aware of the Sankofa principle of 'giving back' at an Allstate Insurance Company event that recognized high performing Allstate sales achievers in the Chicago community. From this, his wife, and Purdue alum, Allstate attorney Vanita Banks, took the award to the National Bar Association (NBA) where it has since been given to many legal professionals who have exhibited the 'Spirit of Sankofa in their careers.

In 2006, James Bly and the first Sankofa Committee, comprised of the wife of former Purdue Trustee Cynthia Berry Powers, Reverend James Foster, and Stephen Lewis, presented The Sankofa Award to the retiring Dr. Cornell Bell on the behalf of The Nu Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. In 2011, the Sankofa Award was awarded to honor others who had given back to diversity in the Purdue University community. Among those recipients that year was the then-Purdue President, Dr. France A. Cordova and the Purdue Alumni Association's Chad Johnson. In 2015, the Sagamore Committee, which now included former award recipients, desired to expand the award's reach and ongoing sponsorship beyond fraternity-based recognition. This expansion included relabeling the award to SAGAMORE SANKOFA, to encompass and represent diversity in the greater Purdue community. As a result of receiving this distinction, several recipients will soon be recognized as Purdue Old Masters. Going forward, the Sagamore Sankofa will be co-administered and presented by the Purdue Black Student Union (BSU) and the Purdue African Students Association (ASA) during homecoming festivities. As part of formalizing this, a fund-raising reception will be held annually to recognize contributors to diversity in the Purdue community. The families of The Pioneering Women Award have also agreed to participate in this event as well to expand the legacy of recognizing the unbounded achievement of many Purdue Women. The Nu Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. also presented their Achievement Award during this inaugural event.

Awardees from the 2015 Pioneering Purdue Women Award included:

Edward R. Murrow Award-winning, CBS Radio anchor, Felicia Middlebrooks

Proctor and Gamble CIO and corporate Board Member, Linda Clement-Holmes

Physician and humanitarian, Dr. Sonia Winslett, MD

New Jersey physician, Dr. Gail Griffin Olabisi, MD

Entrepreneur and former PACER V.P., Kathryn Jordan

Retired corporate executive, Carol Moss Bullock

University of Chicago Associate Professor and physician, Dr. Catherine Harth, MD

Entrepreneur and philanthropist, Kay E. Woodward, Ph.D.

Takeda Pharmaceuticals Inc. Assistant General Counsel, Denise Simon, Esq.

Nielsen Company senior executive, Cheryl Pearson-McNeil

Awardees from the 2015 Sagamore Sankofa Award included:

Hall of Fame member and all-time Purdue football legend, M. Leroy Keyes

Purdue alum, entrepreneur and philanthropist , Roland Parrish

Purdue alum, former President of The Purdue Black Alumni Org., Candice Nash

Purdue basketball legend and sports announcer, Ralph Taylor

Purdue alum, former President & CEO of Associated Materials, Jerry Burris

Purdue alum and Director, Grad School Multicultural Programs, Dwight Lewis, Ph.D.

Recipients of the 2015 Nu Chapter Achievement Award included:

U.S. Presidential Appointee, former Superintendent, U.S. Mint, Shallie M. Bey

Corporate Director, retired executive, Eli Lilly, Inc., Andrew Crowe

CEO, National Black McDonald'€™s Owner Operator's Association, Roland Parrish

Retired Sr. Patent Attorney, National Aeronautics & Space Administration, Alan Kennedy

Judge, Superior Court, East Chicago, Indiana, Honorable William E. Davis

Corporate Director, former President & CEO, Associated Materials, Jerry Burris

In the Fall semester of 2016, the first undergraduate recipients of The SAGAMORE SANKOFA were presented the award, as part of accomplishing a greater mission of recognition. The future student awardees will be given this award for achievement in community involvement, giving back to the black community, Voices for Purdue, clubs helping the cultural and spiritual growth of Black community, academic achievement, overall Character, and members of the Black Homecoming court.

Liwame Beraki of the African Student Association, has assumed the initial role of Executive Director and will administer the award and finances. Liwame put it well: "It is important to the Committee that this be put on a permanent, sustainable path, beyond current involvement. This can be something that we can all work towards, something to recognize the achievers and contributors in the diversity community for their selflessness, the basic principle of SANKOFA."

I also believe that it should serve to be lightning rod for recognizing local contributors to advancing diversity at Purdue. The award has now been awarded to our first Black Homecoming King, Ali Abdul-Ghani and Queen, Jasmine Edison. Since then, Sankofa as a concept has had more activity and recognition and entities like the National Society of Black Engineers,(NSBE) founded at Purdue, will be using its symbolism as part of positive recognition. The award has a phenomenal future.