Sankofa Festival : A Celebration of African American Literature and Culture

About the Sankofa Festival

In 2016, the Oak Bluffs Public Library celebrated the first week of August with an African American Literature and Culture Festival in honor of the Oak Bluffs Power of Place permanent exhibit in the The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The next year, the library received a sizable donation of African American research resources from a local scholar, which soon became part of our African American collection.

Now an annual tradition, the celebration – now called the Sankofa* Festival – is an important part of the library’s commitment to the diversity and inclusion which helped Oak Bluffs stand out as a historic place of belonging for African Americans. The Oak Bluffs Public Library hosts speakers, writers, scholars, artists and performers during the first weekend in August each year to shine a light on the significant Black literature and culture, which are interwoven into the tapestry of Oak Bluffs history.

*The Sankofa bird is a symbol of the Akan people of West Africa. The bird, which looks back on itself, means “it is not taboo to go back and reclaim what you left behind”. Because of its significance as an African symbol which teaches that we must go back to our past to move forward, was suggested that the library use the Sankofa bird to designate its African American collection. It was such a fitting concept, that the library renamed its annual festival to the Sankofa Festival in late 2018.


This year, we’re so excited to bring waist beading, a collaborative art workshop, author and artist talks, walks on the African American Heritage Trail, reiki classes and more! Check back for details. All events are free and open to the public!

Black Business in a Tourist Economy
Thursday August 3

10:30 – 11:30

India Rose, the founder of the MV Black-Owned Business Directory will speak about the challenges that face small businesses in our seasonal economy; and how the growth and impact of the Directory has become an essential resource/tool for Island BIPOC businesses to thrive.
Holistic Personal Finance
Thursday, August 3

12:00 – 1:00pm

Holistic financial wellness looks to serve individuals and the needs that are unique to them. Join certified financial education instructor (CFEI) Chris for a workshop on how you can create your ideal lifestyle and make your money work for you. 
Reiki Healing Workshop
Thursday, August 3

1:30 – 2:30pm

Join Reiki Master, Wakenda Johnson for a class introducing reiki. This group class will focus on the origins, benefits, and steps to integrate reiki into your everyday life. Whether you are interested in learning about reiki, or looking to hone in on your practiced skills, this class will have something for all. Registration is encouraged, but not required
Interactive Art Collage Workshop
Thursday, August 3

3:30 – 5:30pm

Join artist Dawn Tree as she leads an interactive art workshop with a focus on preserving history. The art workshop will include collaging techniques, painting and memory dialogue. This will include archived photos, personal photos brought by attendees, mixed media materials–i.e. flowers, keys, etc.

Dawn Tree is a professional abstract surrealist artist and owner of a creative marketing agency, Underground Tree Studios. She obtained a B.A. in Journalism and a Minor in African and African American Studies from the University of Oklahoma in 2007.

Her love and focus on her art career has led her to hold artist residences, for instance, contribute to many art exhibitions and even publish a book. In 2019 Tree published a graphic art history book entitled Tulsa’s Black Wall Street: A Modernized Revelation. The book takes her graphic art history composed of archived photos from the largest race massacre in history that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma and her imagination and explained in a digestible and truth telling way.  
Thursday, August 3

6:00 – 7:00pm

Each Thursday from 6:00-7:00 join us on the Library’s South Lawn for live, local music. Bring your beach chairs, blankets, snacks and lay out on the grass while you listen to tunes. Fun for all ages. 

Enjoy artists such as Delanie Pickering, Johnny Hoy, Jaywalkers, Sam Rothberg, Darby Patterson, Blue Yonder and many more!

This event series is kindly funded by the Library Friends of Oak Bluffs.
Dawn Tree Artist & Author Talk : Tulsa’s Black Wall Street
Friday, August 4
11:00 – 1:00pm

Join us for an artist & author talk with Dawn Tree. Dawn will talk about her graphic novel, Tulsa’s Black Wall Street: A Modernized Revelation as well as the art she is showing during the Sankofa Festival in the Oak Bluffs Library’s meeting room

About the Book: Tree’s book discusses the 1921 Race Massacre and brings the history to life via botanical images of nature, archived photos and her journalistic artistic imagination from before, during, and after the 1921 Race Massacre that shook Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Waist Beading Workshop led by Balebe Handcrafted Jewelry
Friday, August 4
2:00 – 4:00pm

Ignite your creativity with Balebe’s Waist Beading Workshop! Join us for an afternoon waist beading where you will learn about beading and it’s connection to numerology, color theory, design, intention setting. Each participant will leave with their own! For more information on Balebe head to

Registration is required as supplies are limited (20 people maximum). To register, email or call 508-693-9433
Plant Walk with Alexis Nikole Nelson
Friday, August 4

4:00 – 5:30pm

Join us for a Plant Walk starting at the Oak Bluffs Library with Alexis Nikole Nelson aka @blackforager. This walk and discussion will focus on foraging and plant identification of species found in Oak Bluffs.  Alexis Nikole Nelson is an American forager, cook, and internet personality. She maintains the TikTok account alexisnikole and Instagram page blackforager, where she posts videos of her foraging finds along with cooking techniques and historical information
  Tap with Hannah : Nicholas Brothers
Saturday, August 5
10:30 – 11:30am

Join Hannah for a very special tap class to discover your inner tap dancer! This class will be dedicated to The Nicholas Brothers and the famous inspiration they had on the tap world.

Class will include a warm-up, instruction to basic tap steps and vocabulary. We will end each class with some fun, light choreography that will keep you tapping long after class is over.

No experience is necessary, and a limited number of tap shoes will be provided (size dependent). Although this class is geared towards adults, tap is fun for all ages, and a great way to get in touch with rhythm and musicality. 

Registration is encouraged. Email: or Call: 508-693-9433
African American Heritage Trail : Special Library Tour
Saturday, August 5
11:00 – 12:00pm

In celebration of the Sankofa Festival for African American history and culture, the OB Library and the Library Friends of Oak Bluffs have arranged for a fully narrated walking tour of the Highlands Area of Oak Bluffs with the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard. 

Space is very limited for this free tour, so registration is required. Please call (508) 693-9433 and ask for Hannah, or email to register. To ensure the maximum community access to this important tour, we must limit two slots per registrant. Thank you for understanding!

If you require more than two sign-ups or if you’d prefer to take the tour at a different time, please visit to sign up at the regular rate.
Faith Mitchell Author Talk : Emma’s Postcard Album
Saturday, August 5
12:00 – 1:30pm

Emma’s Postcard Album; Black Lives in the Early Twentieth Century uses a young Black woman’s postcard correspondence from 1906 to 1910 to tell a larger story about American life more than a century ago. The text is richly illustrated with photographs and hundreds of full-color “Golden Age” postcards—and would engage audiences whether they’re interested in Black history or in charming images of a bygone time. Emma Crawford was my grandmother.

A collection of postcard correspondence reflecting the Black experience is actually quite rare. Described by one reviewer as “stunningly original and highly compelling,” Emma’s Postcard Album is alive with Black voices from a century ago. It is a unique entry point into the highs, lows, and daily life of Black Americans during the darkest days of Jim Crow.

Emma’s Postcard Album is part of the University Press of Mississippi’s Atlantic Migrations and the African Diaspora series, edited by Jessica Harris (longtime Vineyard resident).

Faith Mitchell is an author with a doctorate in medical anthropology, as well as an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. Over the years her career has bridged research, philanthropy, and social and health policy, and she has written or edited numerous publications related to these topics.
Contemporary Authors Panel
Saturday, August 5
6:00 – 7:00pm

Join our panel of 4 writers who are committed to their craft and have been friends since 2005. Moderated by Toni Kaufman, President of MV NAACP


Victoria Christopher Murray –The Personal Librarian, The First Ladies,New York Times Bestselling Author, NAACP Image Award

Tiffany L. Warren – The Favorite Son, All the Things I Meant to Tell You, Don’t Tell A Soul

Renee Daniel Flagler (Also writes as, Nicki Night) – Asylum, Second Wives Club, Work Love Balance

ReShonda Tate Billingsly – Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, Say Amen Again, NAACP Image Award


Tuesday, August 17

African-American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard4:30 – 5:45pm
Join the famous walking tour of the Highlands to learn about the history of African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard.

Space is very limited for this free tour, so registration is required. Please call (508) 693-9433 and ask for Allyson, or email to register. Only two slots per registrant, please.

Saturdays in August

Project Illuminate : Oral History Recording Studio10 – 12pm
The Oral History Recording Studio is where we archive your Oak Bluffs stories. This is your chance to tell us your story for preservation in the historic record! We are particularly interested in making sure we preserve stories that have never been told before.

If you’ve lived in or visited Oak Bluffs for an important part of your life but don’t know how to talk about it, don’t worry! Our staff will provide you some ideas about how to tell your story.

The recording studio is open to people of all ages with any Oak Bluffs story. Please call (508) 693-9433 or email to sign up for a 30-minute slot.




Thursday, August 2

Paris Noir | 6 – 8pm
Special film screening of documentary about African Americans in Paris with Q&A by film producer

Friday, August 3

Special Event at the Tabernacle : Monarchs and dignitaries from Africa and Beyond | 1 – 4pm
Meet African royalty, shop the market and listen to live music

Opening Gala | 6 – 9pm
Featuring art by James Jennings, Jordan Burnham, Suesan Stovall, and live music by Papa J.

Saturday, August 4

Opening Remarks | 10am
Welcome by Culture Ambassador James Jennings

Hugh Price | 10 – 11am
This African-American Life book talk

LaShonda Katrice Barnett | 11 – 12pm
Book talk

Light Fare | 12 – 1pm

Dr. Cheryl Finley | 1 – 2pm
My Soul Has Grown Deep author talk and book signing

Feminism and African American Art roundtable discussion | 2 – 3pm
LaShonda Katrice Barnett, Dr. Cheryl Finley, and Samantha CC

Zack Zachary | 3 – 4pm
Poet, storyteller, visionary & activist

Samantha CC & Erica Chamblee | 4 – 5pm
Multimedia Performance



2016 African American Festival poster