'I'm celebrating the richness of our culture'

Kwanzaa festivities recognize African-American history with arts

December 28, 2008|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Keturah Stovall, 9, turned to a small mirror and admired the African-inspired pink and orange designs freshly painted on her face.

"I like my face," she said softly to her mother, Monique Fitzgerald of Baltimore. "It's beautiful."

Stovall and her mother were among those yesterday who visited the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture for its fourth annual Kwanzaa celebration. Organizers said they expected 1,000 people for the daylong event.

Yesterday was the second day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day holiday that honors African-American people, history and culture. The celebration of the holiday starts Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.

Established in 1966 by Ron Karenga, a professor of black and ethnic studies at University of California, Los Angeles, the holiday features seven principles. Translated from Swahili, those principles are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Observers light candles to represent each principle of Kwanzaa. The holiday has become a tradition for many African-Americans.

"It is very important to learn about your history," Fitzgerald said. Children "need to know about their culture."

The event featured drummers, storytellers, arts and crafts focused on African culture and Kwanzaa traditions, several dance and vocal performances, and vendors selling African products.

The museum's celebration differs from some other Kwanzaa-related events because it takes place during the holiday, said Mirma Johnson, director of education at the museum.

"It's very important to stick with the traditions of Kwanzaa," Johnson said.

Johnson is pleased with the growth of the holiday. She said she has noticed a better understanding of the tradition by the public.

"Kids come in knowing about the holiday," she said. "Even if they do not celebrate it in their house, they know that this is about them."

One of the most popular activities during the celebration was an African dance lesson.

Natalie Jones laughed as she watched her husband, Stanley Jenkins, and two children, Najja, 7, and Asseff, 10, sway from side to side as they attempted to keep up with the pace of instructor Sallah Jenkins.

"It's important to understand your culture so that you know about yourself," said Jones, a teacher specialist with the Anne Arundel public schools. "It helps build identity."

Meanwhile, Asseff stood in the middle of cheering supporters as he mixed breakdancing with some of the African dance steps he learned for an impromptu freestyle dance. He trotted over to his father and made him dance, which made Jones burst out with laughter.

"We are just trying to teach the kids more about Kwanzaa," she said as she snapped a picture with a small digital camera.

Ruby Shaw, owner of Mahogany Exchange in Baltimore, was one of the 17 vendors selling products at the event. Shaw sold books and other publications by African-American authors.

She said African-American youth need more events that teach them about their history and culture.

"This is the only exposure some of them actually get," Shaw said. "We need to become more aware."

Erin Maultsby, a math teacher in Baltimore, was attracted to the event after hearing about it on television. She spent the day watching dance performances. She participated in the African dance lesson. And she purchased a pair of silver earrings from West Africa.

"I'm celebrating the richness of our culture," she said.

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