Jessica Hebron wore her crown Saturday to the spirited Kwanzaa celebration at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.
The custom-made head cover — depicting a child gazing up at the sun — is part of her persona as “Culture Queen,” a high-energy performer aiming to inspire pride and cultural awareness in African American children through singing and dancing.
The crown Hebron wore during her 40-minute program wasn’t intended only to keep her in character. She wanted the kids in the audience of about 100 people to feel like royalty.
“I am a tower of royal power,” she had them chant.
An author as well as entertainer, Hebron, 35, who is from Prince George’s County, said it’s important for kids to have an early, positive sense of themselves.
“We live in a world that doesn’t support that,” she said in an interview. “I get to give them permission and power to celebrate being their beautiful black selves.”
Cultural education is a big part of Kwanzaa, the seven-day celebration of family and community rooted in African traditions.
The Baltimore museum has for years held special events for Kwanzaa, which began Thursday and ends New Year’s Day.
“This is an important tradition,” said City Council President and mayoral candidate Brandon Scott, who was among the attendees. “Because when you’re thinking about Kwanzaa, you’re thinking not just about yourself but a collective purpose as a group.”
The day-long celebration at the Lewis Museum typically draws as many as 1,500 visitors, museum officials said.
“This is one of our signature events,” said Jackie Copeland, the museum’s executive director. “It really is a family celebration.”
The event is filled with kids, parents and grandparents who return year after year.
Among Saturday’s celebrants was Imani Edwards, who brought her 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter for the second year in a row.
“We follow around the Culture Queen,” said Edwards, who lives in Washington. “She’s just empowering. It’s great for my kids to see a brown face that’s just so positive and fun, and they can sing her songs. They go to independent schools which are predominantly white.”
Hebron spotted Edwards after her show and gave her a hug.
“Oh, my God. She travels so far to come to see me and bring her kids,” Hebron said. “She intentionally makes sure that she takes her kids to programs that teach about their culture.”
Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an Eastern Shore-born advocate for civil rights and black empowerment. It is rooted in seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Saturday’s celebration was designed to be interactive. Among the highlights was an opportunity for kids to play drums and to learn about New Generation Scholars, a youth leadership program.
In the scholars program, Baltimore kids use the arts — such as film or music — to explore broad themes and encourage critical thinking.
Sharayna Christmas, the program’s leader, said it shares an important Kwanzaa theme of working not just for individual gain, but collectively to better families and communities.
“It ties in well,” she said.