As the Eubie Blake National Museum and Cultural Center in the cold, stark Brokerage building near the Inner Harbor filled with a woody scent of incense yesterday, Maria Broom led 11 barefoot teen-agers in a swirling dance to open a Kwanzaa celebration.
Highlighting the seven symbols of the nonreligious African-American holiday -- self-determination, cooperative economics, creativity, faith, unity, purpose and collective work and responsibility -- Ms. Broom and her troupe chanted a litany before a small group of spectators who stood shivering inside the unheated building on Market Place.
"Peace and joy upon the Earth. And to the people of the Earth. Let the babies grow up free and strong with minds of peace and happiness in love," Ms. Broom said.
The dancers, who included Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's daughter Kathy, repeated the phrases.
The five-hour Kwanzaa celebration was sponsored by the Eubie Blake museum, which has opened a temporary gallery in The Brokerage.
A June 5 fire badly damaged the museum's quarters in the 400 block of N. Charles St.
The museum plans to move permanently to a rehabilitated space in The Brokerage in the coming year.
Yesterday's observance also featured informal lectures on the seven principles of Kwanzaa, live music and the lighting of a menorah.
About 35 people, most of them children, attended the opening ceremony at noon.
Berlette Adesalu, a psychologist with the Baltimore school system, said she brought her three grandchildren to the celebration so they could learn about their African heritage.
"It is a sense of self," Ms. Adesalu said of Kwanzaa.
The weeklong holiday began Sunday and will continue through Saturday. It takes its name from a Swahili phrase that means first fruits.
"The children need to know who they are as a person. That they have a cultural heritage. That leads to self-esteem and character. Once you know who you are, you are more careful in what you do," Ms. Adesalu said.
She works with many troubled inner-city children who, she believes, would have a healthier outlook on life if they practiced the principles of Kwanzaa centering on self-fulfillment and unity.
"Kwanzaa would help them," she said. "Any activity that promotes self-esteem shows you that your life is not your own. You are responsible and have more strength."
Mikal Veale, 7, stood transfixed yesterday, watching the Kwanzaa ceremonies.
His grandmother, Alice Stinnette, brought him to the celebration to teach him about African cultures.
"We're here to learn as much as we can," Ms. Stinnette said.
"We have questions like, is Kwanzaa the same as Christmas? Do I get presents? What do these strange words mean? I think the reason we have Kwanzaa is to bring black Americans their history. To learn something about history that teaches you unity, creativity and faith."