Families kick off Kwanzaa with children's museum celebration

The Bronzeville Children’s Museum celebrates the start of the seven-day holiday commemorating African American culture by studying the seven principles. First; unity.

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Margaret Galloway asks children what they’d do to improve their community during a Kwanzaa learning event at the Bronzeville Children’s Museum on 93rd and Stoney Island, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Margaret Galloway, a docent at the Bronzeville Children’s Museum, asks children what they would do to improve their community during a Kwanzaa learning event Monday, the first of the seven-day celebration of African American culture.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A few dozen kids and their parents gathered at a children’s museum Monday afternoon in Calumet Heights on the South Side to commemorate and learn about the first day of Kwanzaa.

The secular seven-day holiday celebrating African American culture features seven guiding principles, and it kicked off with its first: unity, or Umoja.

Children sat around tables listening to lessons by Margaret Galloway, a docent at the Bronzeville Children’s Museum at 9301 S. Stony Island Ave. The kids sang songs, shared how they would change the world and used crayons to decorate masks symbolizing the holiday’s seven principles.

One girl said she would change the world by trying “to be the bigger person.” Others said they would “try to stop racism” or “make a healthy dinner for my family.”

“I’m loving what the children are saying,” Galloway said. “I love when I see their light bulb come on.”

Young children wave electric candles while singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ during a Kwanzaa learning event at the Bronzeville Children’s Museum on 93rd and Stoney Island, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Children holding electric candles sing “This Little Light of MIne” at the Kwanzaa event. The celebration runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Kwanzaa, celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, was created in 1966 by scholar Maulana Karenga to unite African Americans in the wake of police brutality protests in Los Angeles.

Peggy Montes, founder and president of the Bronzeville Children’s Museum, said the holiday hasn’t gained the mainstream traction it deserves. But she has enjoyed seeing more and more families come out to the museum’s educational and interactive event every year since it started 24 years ago.

“I’m hoping that they take that information, not just to be observing for one day, but for the whole year,” Montes said of the families in attendance. “That’s what the seven principles are about. It’s a guideline to how they should be living their lives through the year.”

Ilandrea Nichols said she celebrates Kwanzaa every year but was excited to bring her two kids to the event Monday — it was their first time celebrating outside their home since the pandemic.

Young children decorate Kwanzaa masks that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa during a Kwanzaa learning event at the Bronzeville Children’s Museum on 93rd and Stoney Island, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. | Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Parents help children decorate Kwanzaa masks representing the seven principles of the holiday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“I think they’re enjoying the activities,” she said of her kids, ages 8 and 10.

“Christmas is just all about gifts, so kind of teaching them the principles and making it fun. Coming with Kwanzaa and the principles, it can come off as [boring], so I like the way they kind of put it in song and music and have them doing different creative projects.”

Nichols said the family would celebrate the next six days at home plus a trip to the DuSable Black History Museum and make a special dinner for the final day, which honors the seventh principal, Imani, or faith.

Nichols’ older child, Naomi, said Kwanzaa is a time “for family to come together.”

The other five principles are:

  • Kujichagulia, meaning self-determination
  • Ujima, or work and responsibility
  • Ujamaa, or cooperative economics
  • Nia, or purpose
  • Kuumba, or creativity

Ernst Lamothe and Dominique Dorneval drove up from south suburban Lansing with their 2-year-old daughter, Simone, for the event.

Lamothe said the couple wanted their daughter to learn about various cultures from an early age, including their own Caribbean culture as first-generation Haitian Americans, along with the lessons taught during Kwanzaa and other holidays such as Hanukkah.

“We’re hoping that she understands that there’s a lot of different things to celebrate,” Lamothe said.

“We just want her to learn about all the different ways that people experience the holidays, that everything is just not all Christmas Day, everything is not only about Santa Claus.”

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