With rapt attention, 4-year-old Alexis Gamble fixed her eyes on three teenage girls, bare-footed in vibrant-colored dresses, as they danced to traditional African beats on Saturday, the fourth day of Kwanzaa.

The Gamble family, of Owings Mills, lights a candle each day of the seven-day holiday that was created in 1966 by Eastern Shore native Maulana Karenga to reflect on African culture. They were among more than 350 who turned out for the annual celebration at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.


"The kids loved the drums," Tekoa Gamble said of Alexis and her 8-year-old brother, Lavar. "So far, everything's been a good education for them."

Gamble and her husband, Angelo, forgo Christmas to teach the children about their heritage and the seven principals of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

The museum festival included griot storytelling, films, crafts and an African marketplace, where artisans sold jewelry, slippers, soaps, flags and garb. The dance and drum performances were put on by the repertory company at ConneXions School for the Arts and Nyame Nti Cultural Healing Arts Therapy.

Dorothy Adamson Holley, one of the founders of the Baltimore-based Nyame Nti, said she believes the ancient dances and drumbeats are gifts to African-Americans from their ancestors that promote healing. She described the performances as "soul-stirring."

"Literally something inside of me was healed on a cellular level," Adamson Holley said. "It's much more than entertainment."

To Quanjayaa Turmon, one of the ConneXions students, celebrating Kwanzaa and expressing herself through African dance feels natural.

"You can give your energy and see what you can do," the 16-year-old said.

Terry Taylor, education programs coordinator at the museum, said celebrating the message of Kwanzaa instills a sense of pride and empowerment in African-American children to counter negative images or influences they may encounter.

"Kwanzaa isn't just a celebration one week after Christmas," Taylor said. "The principles can be celebrated all year."

The museum has hosted Kwanzaa celebrations for more than five years.

Richard Eland of West Windsor, N.J., said he's been coming to Baltimore for two decades to see family and friends but visited the Reginald F. Lewis Museum for the first time Saturday with his daughter, Ariel, 20. They stayed to see vendors, drummers and a play, and toured the exhibit "Growing Up AFRO," which commemorates the 120th anniversary of the Afro-American newspaper.

"It adds to the diversity of Baltimore's cultural experience," Richard Eland said.

Said Ariel Eland, "I love the drummers and the beat — I am definitely glad we came."