By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO
By all accounts, the grand opening and official ribbon cutting ceremony for Sankofa Children’s Museum of African Cultures was a huge success. The parking lot across the street at St John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church was packed, and vehicles lined both sides of Pimlico Road, overflowing on to Boarman Avenue, bumper-to-bumper, all the way down to Park Heights Ave. The growing crowd swelled along the sidewalk and out into the street, eagerly anticipating the unveiling of the museum’s treasure-trove of artifacts. As drummers pounded out their welcoming beat, some onlookers swayed to their rhythmic message as others nudged forward, trying to gain a vantage point to ensure that they would get in.
In the midst of all of the excitement, Esther Armstrong (aka Mama Kiki), the museum’s founder, basked in the warmth of the community’s embrace, welcoming the country’s first known children’s museum of African culture to its home. According to Armstrong, more than 200 celebrants passed through the museum’s “Door of Return” for the day’s jubilant celebration.
Delighted by the attendance, she explains, “We were actually expecting a turnout because people had signed up. It was a good problem to have, but… Some people were calling the morning of, and I’m saying, ‘Well, you missed the cut off, but you can still come. Just be ready to stand.”
Shawn Murray Livers was among the many there to welcome the museum. An artist and jewelry designer, Livers was born in Baltimore and currently resides in Park Heights. She is excited to have the museum in the community and also about its potential for growth. Livers describes it as “a seed, planted that will be nurtured and grow.”
She feels that through the museum’s work, “There’s going to be a change in the way we see ourselves. A lot of us don’t know who we are or what we come from because it’s not taught in schools. So, I just see it changing lives.” Livers enthusiastically adds, “Whatever they need that I can provide in terms of volunteering, I’m there.”
Also in attendance, Willie Flowers, executive director, Park Heights Community Health Alliance, appreciates that the museum provides an educational experience and connects the historic legacy of African people. He also sees it setting a new tone for the community.
“It creates a tourism destination for Park Heights beyond what we know about Pimlico Race Track,” states Flowers. “It’s also the case that there needs to be that type of positive attraction in the Park Heights community, and it’s wonderful that it’s a museum and not a once a year horse race.”
Mama Kiki also has thoughts about Sankofa as a tourism destination. The museum has already begun working with schools in the Park Heights community, and she hopes to attract groups from throughout the city, state, and beyond.
“We’re hoping that we will touch DC and Delaware, and maybe even Philly,” she says. “A lot of bus trips frequent the Great Blacks in Wax Museum. They always have trips from out of town. So, hopefully, we can attract people because this information that we are providing is for all of us.”
Armstrong would like to extend the museum’s reach far and wide, and realizes that accomplishing the museum’s goals will require a major fundraising effort. Having made it this far, she’s positive that it can be done.
The Sankofa Children’s Museum of African Cultures is located at 4330 Pimlico Road, Baltimore, MD 21215. For information about museum hours and visits, call 443-708-7046, or visit sankofakids.org. Donations are being accepted on the website, www.sankofakids.org, and GoFundMe Page, www.gofundme.com/sankofakids.