Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Staying Safe with Sankofa Bird
By Brian W. Carter, Staff Writer
Published June 29, 2017

The Sankofa Bird in Day of the Ancestors: Festival of Masks procession in Leimert Park Photo By Brian W. Carter

Masks, drums and dancing filled the air with Vision Zero at Day of the Ancestors: Festival of Masks on Sunday, June 25 in Leimert Park. The festival brings a close to a month of awareness on educating the community on traffic safety as part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Vision Zero”, which hopes to end all traffic-related deaths by 2025.

In partnership with Leimert Park-based nonprofit L.A. Commons, along with Multicultural Communities for Mobility and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the symbolic Sankofa Bird has been used to educate the community about traffic safety. Filmmaker, ethnographer, educator and community activist, Ben Caldwell, who manages non-profit media lab, KAOS Network and runs the Leimert Park Art Walk, spoke about Sankofa and its meaning.

“Sankofa is really the first form of writing that we had,” said Caldwell. “The symbols that they all came from preceded Arabic writing, Sanskrit and all the early writings.”


Sankofa is a recognized icon as part of the Adinkra symbolic system of the Akan people of Ghana. Sankofa translated means “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind” or not to forget the past. The African symbols are very meaningful to Leimert Park as they can be seen throughout the area on the ground. The Sankofa Bird’s design has it looking back as it moves forward, which Caldwell stated is a part of Mayor Garcetti’s initiative.

“He’s checking off the different needs like slowing down traffic, then once they slow down, what do they do?” said Caldwell.

According to statistics, Los Angeles has the highest number of traffic fatalities per capita in the country. Crenshaw Boulevard ranks high in serious injuries and fatalities for pedestrians and bicyclists. To educate the community and engage them in the traffic safety message, a giant Sankofa Bird puppet was created and was present at multiple events during the month of June.

The Sankofa Bird took off at the annual Juneteenth festival in Leimert Park on June 17 for Ride On! Bike Co-Op’s Grand Opening, and traveled to the annual Crenshaw HealthFest, which was hosted by Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. It was featured as a highlighted character at the Festival of Masks as it proceeded through the streets in a procession that encompassed a block.

The Sankofa Bird in illustration Courtesy Photo

Sankofa’s “proverbs” were displayed on signs and banners along Crenshaw between Martin Luther King and 52nd Street to share the message of safety, i.e. “Drive Don’t Fly,” “Fast Drive Could Be Last Drive,” and “Normal Speed Meets Every Need.”

“In the sense of driving it means to know from where you came, you just left your house with your family,” said Caldwell, “but going to your future with understanding of your past.

“So that gives you a cautious way of moving as opposed to just handling that moment because sometimes hot-head moments get you killed.”


The Sankofa Bird visited sites of past fatalities with gifts to share in memory of those lives lost. The “Sankofa on the ‘Shaw” street team was present at these events to engage with residents and collected community feedback and input on traffic safety issues to help inform proposed improvements and policy strategies. Ride On! Bike Co-Op offered free bicycle repair for participants.

This community education project was produced in partnership by Multicultural Communities for Mobility, LA Commons, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Community Arts Resources and made possible with support from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation through funding from the Office of Transportation Services.

“Sankofa deals with the idea of going to the future… but don’t forget the past while you are going,” said Caldwell.

For more information about Vision Zero, please visit: visionzero.lacity.org

Categories: Crenshaw & Around | Local
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