Sankofa House is a 58-unit building in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, with apartments dedicated for grandparents raising grandkids and young people aging out of foster care. I made several visits there for a photo essay as part of a series WBEZ did in collaboration with the Chicago Sun-Times.
Essie McAllister lives at Sankofa with her 9-year-old grandson, Joavon, who is autistic. Joavon attends the elementary school across the street. His grandma walks him to and from school each day. She’s searching for a male role model for Joavan; meanwhile, she regularly helps him with homework.
Sankofa House is funded by a combination of state agencies – the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Human Services and by the Illinois Department on Aging, as well as private donations. Sankofa offers support groups for grandparents, case management and financial assistance.
Raekwon is a high school junior, who lives with his older sister and their grandmother at Sankofa. He likes to spend time in the garden outside the building. And he volunteers each week at his elementary school.
Four-year-old Brittany, lives at Sankofa House with her grandmother, Pamela Bishop. Without her guardianship, Brittany would be in the care of strangers.
Sandra Cook is legal guardian to her granddaughter, Johnee, a high school senior who lives with her at Sankofa House.
Ed Bickham is one of the only adult males on-site at Sankofa House. Bickham started running education programs there in 2005. Three years later, he was shot at a party for some kids he’d worked with who were going to college. It took him a while before he wanted to work with kids again. But he came back to Sankofa and is currently a social worker and case manager there. He deals with DCFS cases involving residents in the building and people who come in off the street.
Sankofa owes its existence to Annetta Wilson, the founder and executive director, and Illinois U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, in whose district it lies.