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Virtual Kwanzaa: Lewis Museum, other organizers of Baltimore celebrations shift online this year

Screenshot from the Baltimore Children’s Business Fair Inc. webinar on the basics of starting a business and how your product or service can encourage the Kwanzaa principle of Ujamaa, also known as cooperative economics.
Screenshot from the Baltimore Children’s Business Fair Inc. webinar on the basics of starting a business and how your product or service can encourage the Kwanzaa principle of Ujamaa, also known as cooperative economics. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Each year, 14-year-old Kaiya Jones of Ellicott City looks forward to spending time with her family to celebrate Kwanzaa at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.

She enjoys listening to stories, hearing the beat of the African drums and watching dancers move in sync with the rhythm. Her favorite part is strolling through the museum to see what goods are offered for sale at different stands.

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This year was different. Kaiya along with 20 other children in the Baltimore region enjoyed a virtual Kwanzaa event Tuesday afternoon.

Unity is one of the seven principles emphasized in the annual African American celebration of Kwanzaa, which is Swahili for “first fruits” and runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Yet the coronavirus pandemic has prompted some organizers of Kwanzaa events this year to think about unity in a more creative way, bringing together participants online.

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The Lewis Museum in Jonestown is conducting virtual Kwanzaa workshops and events for adults and children. The Creative Alliance in Highlandtown is presenting videos celebrating Black Baltimore poets and other artists.

Some venues, such as the Eubie Blake Cultural Center in Mount Vernon, have managed to celebrate in-person despite COVID restrictions.

Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on a different principle, beginning with Umoja (unity), continuing with Kujichaguilia (self determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose) and Kuumba (creativity), and concluding with Imani (faith). Each night, the tradition is to have a child light the Kinara, which consists of seven candles: one black, three red and three green to represent the seven principles.

Terry Taylor is education programs manager at the Lewis Museum, endowed by the late business mogul. Taylor says the annual in-person event to celebrate Kwanzaa has been held for the past 15 years, but this year it was crucial to gather, albeit virtually, due to COVID-19.

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“The museum is named after Reginald F. Lewis and it is up to us … to nurture [the children’s] entrepreneurial spirit,” Taylor said.

On the fourth day of the seven-day celebration, the children learned about Ujamaa. Moderator Janear Garrus, director of the Baltimore Children’s Business Fair, led them through a kid-friendly session about a serious topic: money.

“There are so many avenues to use entrepreneurial skills, and finding ways to apply that in Baltimore communities and in African American communities is an example of what Kwanzaa means,” Garrus said. “I want the children to take away that it’s easy to start a business, but it can be much better when we have support and can support the work of others.”

As Garrus walked the children through the steps of starting and running a business, they chimed in with their ideas. When asked what they could do to make money, one suggested baking cookies. Another had the idea of making animals from pipe cleaners. Someone else mentioned painting people’s fingernails.

Kaiya’s 10-year-old sister, Neema, also attended. The fifth-grader came away with an appreciation of the entrepreneurial spirit.

“I never really thought about starting my own business, but now I have an idea of how I’d run it,” she said.

John Barnes attended with his 8-year-old son and his 4-year old daughter. He said he appreciated Garrus for using examples of Black entrepreneurs who followed out their dreams such as the head of Google Startups, Jewel Burks Solomon, Baltimore philanthropist Eddie Brown and writer-director Tyler Perry.

“It gives the children an idea of, ‘Hey, they look like me, and if I have an idea, I can run with it,” Barnes said.

Later Tuesday, the museum hosted another event, for adults. That discussion included not only how to start a business but also how to better support local Black-owned businesses.

“There is a lot going on from COVID-19 to racism to fighting for social justice,” Taylor said. “We invited some local Black businesses to see how they are faring and hopefully see how we can help them thrive.”

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