Kwanzaa celebrations unite families

Museums open doors to people exploring heritage

December 31, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

Baltimore museums held Kwanzaa celebrations yesterday with craft activities, musical performances and art tours on the fifth day of the holiday.

Visitors packed into the Baltimore Museum of Art for an annual Kwanzaa family day, a tradition of more than 10 years. Families crammed into an auditorium to watch a performance by an African-American dance ensemble, Kulu Mele, and afterward glued together a bead mosaic inspired by a Nigerian artist.

By 3 o'clock yesterday, more than 1,000 visitors had come, said Annie Mannix, the art museum's spokeswoman.

Some parents took their children to the free event to give them something to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and others wanted to expose their children to the principles of Kwanzaa.

Tiffany Jefferson doesn't celebrate the secular holiday, but she brought her 7-year-old son, Nathaniel Payne, to the museum.

"I want my son to learn about Kwanzaa and all the different days of Kwanzaa," said Jefferson, a Randallstown resident. "When he grows up, he can make his own decisions."

Nathaniel was busy, fingering small blue beads and gluing them to a wooden tile.

"I'm making a spaceship!" the first-grader declared.

"That's not very Kwanzaa," his mother replied with a laugh.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, an African-American activist. The celebration of the holiday starts Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1. Observers light candles to represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa, which, translated from Swahili, are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Yesterday afternoon, Nigerian artist Jimoh Buraimoh held a demonstration of bead painting, in which he glued beads to a tile. His bead art called Three Wise Men is on display at the museum. Children and adults scattered throughout a workroom fitting beads on tiles, trying to mimic Buraimoh's work.

Vivian Della of Owings Mill had pieced together a red heart out of beads. After the rush of Christmas, her family usually doesn't have time to prepare for Kwanzaa celebrations, Della said. But Kwanzaa gives her the opportunity to educate her 12-year-old daughter, Jessica Hassell, about their heritage, she said.

"I want to show her more about African-American culture," she said as they both glued beads.

The impetus to celebrate Kwanzaa also can come from the younger generation.

"My daughter's the leader," said Alvin Street of Clarksville, pointing to 12-year-old Sheridan as their family explored the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture yesterday.

"Our daughter asked why we didn't celebrate it," he said.

Sheridan learned about Kwanzaa at school from other students.

"I looked into it and asked if we could start celebrating it," the sixth-grader said. For the past three years, the Streets have celebrated Kwanzaa with candles, readings and a prayer on the seven nights.

The Lewis Museum's Kwanzaa activities featured artistic performances, craft activities and an African-themed marketplace. Vendors lined the second floor of the museum with candles, handcrafted figurines and jewelry underneath giant symbols of Kwanzaa dangling from the ceilings.

"Kwanzaa is not dying out," said vendor Jael Ndaba, who was selling prints and shea butter from Kenya. "It's generational now and most people who are doing it have gotten it ingrained from their family."

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