In DC Haile Gerima’s Bookstore Sankofa Takes Tax Fight to City Council

Ethiopian-American filmmaker and professor Haile Gerima's bookstore Sankofa that's located near Howard University in Washington, DC has been an oasis of Pan-African culture since it opened more than twenty years ago. But now as gentrification threatens its existence the small business is fighting back with a tax abatement bill scheduled for a public hearing on June 3rd, 2019. (Photo: Facebook)


DC gentrification threatens black-owned bookstore, cafe near Howard University

Sankofa was founded in 1998 and named after the famous film by its owners Haile and Gerima.

“Being in D.C. has been a lot of work in terms of our relationship with the city,” Gerima said. “Now with gentrification, the relationship has become more hostile so that the taxes we have to pay each year – $30,000 – is completely outrageous.”

The owners have taken their fight to the D.C. Council where a bill would free that tax burden for the next 10 years.

“What we’re facing now with gentrification is what we’ve been facing since we’ve been here,” Gerima said. “On steroids.”

It’s a move they hope will keep the culture they’ve worked so hard to preserve for the last two decades.

“It’s all about the Benjamins, my sista (sp), it’s all about the Benjamins,” Yilma said.

Sankofa is home for many, including those looking to learn about the African experience.

“There’s a lot of history to learn here at Sankofa,” Sampson Meskel said.

“We are quite proud of what we have here,” co-owner Shirikiana Gerima said.

“When everybody benefits when everybody co-exists it’s good,” Yilma, a customer, said.

The owners want supporters to show up and show out. The tax abatement bill to save Sankofa is scheduled for a public hearing at the Wilson Building Monday, June 3 at 10 a.m.

“I don’t want the city to feel like they’re doing me a favor,” Gerima said. “They should be saying ‘thank you Lordy’ because businesses like this have contributed to the strength of the city.”

You can learn more and help Sankofa stay open at

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