Kwanzaa is fun at Lewis museum

Crafts, games, education mark African-American holiday

  • Kai Barner, 3, of Baltimore, paints a Kwanzaa candle during a craft class at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture's annual celebration of the holiday.
Kai Barner, 3, of Baltimore, paints a Kwanzaa candle during… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
December 28, 2009|By Meredith Cohn |

To 5-year-old Sara Scherlinder of Washington, Kwanzaa means some really cool pink and yellow face paint. But 13-year-old Joey Davis of Catonsville found a somewhat deeper meaning in the holiday that he said was created so people would "learn to respect your culture."

Clearly, the festival means different things to different people. But most all who participated Sunday in the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture's annual Kwanzaa celebration might have to agree that Kwanzaa is fun.

Sara and Joey came with their families to the museum on what was Day 2 of the weeklong festival. Organizers said they aimed to honor African heritage and culture. There were dancing and drumming performances, poetry readings, history lessons, displays of art and sales of African clothes, books, jewelry and crafts.

There were displays of kinaras, or candle holders, that represent the seven pillars of the celebration: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

In a session called "The Meaning of Kwanzaa," group leader Akanke explained the kinara holds one black candle that represents the unity of black people, three red candles representing shared blood or ancestry and three green candles that represent the land of Africa.

Gifts and libations in honor of ancestors are common during the festival, she said.

In another room across the hall, Lisa Crawley, the museum's resource center manager, was offering tutorials in genealogy. She showed visitors a computer program, available at many public libraries, that allows anyone to look up historical documents including census information and bank records dating to 1872. It was several years after slavery ended and many African-Americans had accounts, some of which listed their former slave owners and the plantations where they worked.

Betty Johnson of Elkton knew something about her father's family but was interested in learning more about her mother's side. She was at a computer and getting assistance from Roland Mills, president of the Baltimore Chapter of the Afro-American History and Genealogy Society.

In an earlier search, Mills had found the Nelson County, Va., farm where his grandmother and some 600 others had been slaves. He's since visited the farm, which grows fruits and flowers.

On another floor of the museum, students from the Northwood Appold Community Academy Charter School provided a more general history of Africans and African-Americans. They performed a timeline through song, dance and speeches.

For a little more hands-on culture, the group Return to Goree performed African Dancing that the audience was invited to participate in.

And 14-year-old Alexis Kimbrow of Woodlawn said she and some of her classmates at the Warlord Academy planned a martial arts demonstration later in the day. She wasn't afraid of performing. The classes and martial arts competitions made her confident, she said.

Annmarie Gordon wanted her daughter Sidney Strong to experience all of this. She had set up a kinara at home but had been meaning to bring Sidney to the museum event for years. She wanted to make sure she really understood the festival.

Sidney made her own mask and mat and listened to music and storytelling.

After a nod from her daughter, Gordon said she could consider the day a success.

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