Three years after the storm, the Lower 9th Ward remains a shell of its former self. Basic services such as grocery stores or easily accessible health care are virtually nonexistent.
So Sankofa Marketplace organizers decided to bring these services into the community, even if it’s only once every 30 days. In addition to spotlighting local businesses, it offers fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood, free health screenings, arts and crafts, and live music.
The Sankofa Marketplace is held on the second Saturday of the month with the second scheduled for Saturday. Its scope goes beyond assisting local businesses.
The goal is to not only provide vital services lacking in the storm-damaged neighborhood but also to spur economic development by highlighting the growing demand for such services.
The concept of SANKOFA is derived from King Adinkera of the Akan people of West Afrika. SANKOFA is expressed in the Akan language as "se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki."
Literally translated it means "it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot".
"Sankofa" teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated.
Visually and symbolically "Sankofa" is expressed as a mythic bird that flies forward while looking backward with an egg (symbolizing the future) in its mouth.
City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis said the Lower 9th Ward has been neglected in a recovery process bogged down by too much planning and not enough action. And private investors won’t come until the city begins to inject recovery dollars into the area and revitalize its two main corridors — Claiborne and St. Claude avenues.
But there is hope.
“We finally have the recovery dollars in the city budget, so things are going to start happening,” Willard-Lewis said. “I’m so disappointed that the process has taken this long but the commitment has been made and now it’s about execution.”
Until that happens, Ferdinand and the other Sankofa Marketplace organizers know it will be left to community members to bring their struggling neighborhood back from the brink. She just hopes that by the time the city jumps on board it won’t be too late.
“It’s been three years we’ve been waiting for something to happen and I can see three years becoming four years, becoming five years. If it’s not time to start now when is it? The Lower 9th Ward became this symbol of disaster, but it hasn’t come to represent a symbol of recovery as well.”•