Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Bishop Nkenge Abi: Remembering a Great Advocate for African People

Celebrating the Life of

bishop nkenge abi

Manager of Detroit's Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center & Bookstore
Associate Pastor, Shrine of the Black Madonna Church in Detroit
Member National Story Tellers Association,
Kwanzaa Coordinator, Renown Resource for African Culture

The Detroit community, and many others from across the country, will gather later this evening for a service in celebration of the life of Bishop Nkenge Abi. Sister Nkenge was a passionate advocate for African people, grounded in a fundamental commitment to teaching children and adults about African history and culture. If you've ever visited the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore in Detroit, you likely saw and spoke with Sister Nkenge. She was extremely knowledgeable about books by and/or about African and African American history and culture, and was a longtime resource for many organizations, schools and individuals throughout the Detroit metropolitan area and across the country.

Since moving away from Detroit many years ago, I'd always make it a point to visit the Shrine during my visits back home. I'll always remember the many hours standing next to the check-out register, talking with Sister Nkenge about many different things, from my family's early years at the Shrine, to the evolving trends in African American reading interests and broader cultural consciousness. She was always very generous with her knowledge of the publishing industry, as well as her broader experience of operating a business and transmitting African culture through education and the arts.

While always extremely warm and generous, Sister Nkenge's analysis and perspective was always very sharp and clear, consistently unwavering on anything related to the health and well-being of the African American and broader African community. She always reminded us that everything is political, not in the electoral sense, but in terms of everything about our lives having a direct relationship to our cultural worldview and consciousness, and thus our individual and collective well-being.

While Bishop Nkenge Abi's presence will be missed, her spirit and influence will continue to be with us.

Just below are a few resources that shed at least a little light on Bishop Nkenege Abi's life and example.

1. An article from the Detroit Free Press, acknowledging the passing and influence of Bishop Nkenge Abi.

2. A brief excerpt from an essay on the importance of understanding history, posted by Sister Nkenge on the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center's website. Click on the title to read the entire essay.


An oppressed people with little or no knowledge of their history are more likely to fall victim to the ills of the society in which they live than a people with a strong sense of history and identity. I share Dr. Woodson’s belief that history should be a road map, one we may follow on our way to some place. This map shows us where we have been, where we should go, and hopefully what roads we should avoid. History cannot simply be a feel good exercise or a celebration for those who struggled on our behalf. We must look at the lessons history teaches us and understand its use to confront the social ills in our community and for the restoration of African people to our historical greatness.

3. This brief clip is from just a few weeks ago, and features Sister Nkenge setting the context for the annual Kwanzaa celebration at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. This was the first day of the 2013 Kwanzaa celebration, December 26, 2013.

4. This is a clip of brief yet powerful remarks Sister Nkenge shared in Detroit on the politics of hair. This was also relatively recent, from September 2013.

 Nkenge Abi tells her hair story at The Secret Society Of Twisted Storytellers.
Friday, September 20, 2013 at The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

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