Arkansas Native Creating Intentional Community Focused on Black Healing

A fundraising campaign will support the purchase of property for the Little Rock-based project.

Danielle Jones
Courtesy: Danielle Jones

Danielle Jones has been mulling over her idea to create an intentional community for years, but last week she put her plan into motion. Jones launched a GoFundMe campaign to help purchase 5 acres of land in her hometown of Little Rock. She received around $8,000 in donations during the first two days.

“I feel both super surprised and not surprised at the same time because I’ve seen the way that people have been supporting each other during this pandemic and just in general I see a lot of generosity,” Jones says. 

As the contributions have come in, Jones has seen names of people she hasn’t talked to in years as well as the names of complete strangers who Jones says see the value of creating Sankofa Village, an intentional community centered around Black healing, liberation and regeneration.

Sankofa is a Ghanaian symbol system, one of eight created by Africans to communicate with each other. It literally translates to “look to the past to inform the future,” according to the African Burial Ground National Monument’s website

“It’s a recognition that there is a lot of historical gifts and assets in the Black and the African diaspora community and there’s also a lot of pain and trauma,” Jones says.

In order to build a future where everyone can thrive, especially Black Americans who’ve faced lots of barriers, Jones says you have to recognize what’s happened in the past so you can move forward. 

Danielle Jones is a sustainability educator and yoga teacher and the idea to create her own intentional community started percolating after moving to Portland, Ore. for graduate school in 2014. She participated in a graduate program at Portland State University called Leadership for Sustainability Education. Through that she became familiar with the permaculture philosophy and eco villages and even visited a few of these places.

“I was seeing these really interesting communities where there were shared values about sharing resources and working together and helping people out, but it was also really clear that they were really white and actually quite privileged,” Jones says. “It was people that had excess that realized that excess wasn’t making them happy and looking for other ways to live.”

Sometimes the communities were not very accessible geographically. They were located in rural areas and Jones says it seemed like people were trying to get away from the city to experience nature. 

“That’s also a really, I don’t want to say flawed, but like a really specific idea about what nature means and what you’re getting away from,” Jones says. “Because if you don’t have a car, and if your job is in the city, your family’s in the city and maybe you have to support someone in your family, it’s not really practical to get away.”

Jones enjoys spending time with friends and community, but like for many people right now, those types of gatherings aren’t happening as much because of the pandemic.  

“It’s been a lot of time for me to slow down and reflect about what I really want and what I really want to be doing and so it really made me think a bit more seriously about this dream,” she says.

Jones has long thought she’d get to this project eventually, but the public health crisis has prompted her to make “someday” today.

“I kind of had to think, well why am I waiting? Why don’t we just be brave and see what happens,” she says.

The property Jones intends to purchase is located in Granite Mountain, a historic African American community in southeast Little Rock. Jones was told she would need an undeveloped land loan, which requires a down payment of 25 percent. She has saved up more than half on her own and is asking the community to help support the rest.

Donations will help remove a financial barrier towards purchasing land that many Black people like Jones have “due to generational racism and predatory land practices,” she says. 

Eventually, Sankofa Village will have 10 to 15 tiny homes that people can purchase and Jones intends to create a land trust to combat the potential for gentrification. The small homes and land trust structure will help make home ownership more accessible for members. In addition to homes, Jones intends to create communal spaces.

“Ideally I would love if there was an industrial kitchen and work spaces and places where people can really dream together and create new things that are sort of similarly focused on equity and sustainability and community,” she says. 

While Jones is at the very start of this journey, she is hopeful it will be a positive experience and is willing to share whatever she learns with others interested in starting something similar.

“I hope that whoever ends up being really directly involved with the project feels like it is a healing process,” she says. “There’s ways to facilitate meetings and ways to make decisions that help people feel valued like they can offer what they have to offer — a feeling of abundance rather than scarcity. So there’s that personal hope that I have.”

View details about the Sankofa Village campaign on GoFundMe. You can also get updates on the project by following @sankofavillagearkansas on Instagram.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.