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Kwanzaa celebration lights up Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Adanna Johnson and her 4-year-old son, Ayinde Evans, approached the table filled with colorful jewelry and African garb at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum Saturday morning with eagerness. But they then had slight apprehension.

“Don’t be afraid to touch,” artisan Tracey Beale said. “I know we’re in a museum but you can touch the jewelry. I make everything by hand.”

The mother and son — wearing bright, multicolored African print tops — crept closer to the merchandise. His eyes lit up and he revealed a dimpled smile.

“We go to Kwanzaa here every year,” said Johnson, a 41-year-old Remington resident.

“I’ve been going here since I was a little boy,” her son chipped in as the soles of his navy blue sneakers illuminated. “I like the pictures, dancing and drumming … because I have drums and I drum.”

Each year, the museum holds an event honoring Kwanzaa, a seven-day observance for African-Americans centered around seven principles such as Umoja (unity) and Imani (faith). The holiday was created by Maulana Karenga, a native of Parsonsburg, Maryland, in 1966.

The museum has held similar events for at least six years, according to Jackie Copeland, the museum’s director of education. The day typically attracts between 1,000 to 1,200 people, she said.

“It has been a mainstay of our signature programming,” she said while seated in the exhibit of the artist Romare Bearden, which Copeland curated and was also open to attendees of Kwanzaa event. “We have a robust program for adults and children.”

The day featured an African marketplace for vendors selling everything from jewelry to aroma wellness oils; puppet-filled storytelling; drumming performances; African dance; and arts and crafts. There were also educational lectures and demonstrations ranging from financial literacy to Kwanzaa recipes and foods demonstration.

“This gives folks in the African-American community and the Maryland community the opportunity to learn about the African diaspora and culture and how we celebrate that,” Copeland said.

This was the first year that a fashion presentation featuring wearable art was formally integrated into the programming, according to fashion historian Caprece Jackson-Garrett. She curated “Regal Royale: A Wearable Art Presentation,” a 30-minute fashion show that featured local designers and accessory makers.

“It’s really all about embracing the wearable persona of our culture,” said Jackson-Garrett, whose presentation featured 15 models, and three clothing designers and another three accessory designers. “It’s Afro-centric. It’s Afro-futurism. This is an opportunity for the community to connect with talent and the African aesthetic that is part of our culture and birthright.”

Sehar Peerzada, a clothing designer, was featured in the fashion show and sold her creations among the 30 vendors who participated in the African marketplace.

“This event draws the community to the museum. And the community really needs it,” she said as the marketplace started to swell with attendees. The rhythmic sound of a nearby drum presentation filled the air. “I’m excited to be here. There are not that many places for us [African-American designers] to sell. To be in a good venue like this is a wonderful thing.”

Providing opportunities for black businesses and artists to have a place to showcase their talents was another important mission of the event, according to Copeland. She said adding that it also tied into the Kwanzaa principles of Kuumba (creativity) and Ujamaa (cooperative economics).

“We see ourselves as the authentic voice of the African-American experience,” Copeland said as an African-American family of five walked by and stopped at each painting in the gallery. “It’s so important today. We’re such a fractured nation. We have to understand the strength in our community — the black community.

“We want to honor our ancestors. We don’t degrade that. That’s so important to our community.”

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