Children’s museum of African culture opens in Pimlico

“It’s the door back,” says Esther Armstrong, directing a visitor to something remarkable happening in Baltimore’s Lower Park Heights-Pimlico neighborhood.

Around a bend, she explains: “As soon as you come here, you have arrived on the African continent.

Before us is a sunny hall filled with artifacts from pre-colonial Africa – bronze statues, ritual masks, an ornately carved throne and a salmon-colored straw-roofed hut decorated with geometric patterns.

The spacious room is one of the many features of the Sankofa Children’s Museum of African Cultures, a one-of-a-kind venture started by Armstrong and her husband, Jim Clemmer.

The couple hope to transform the 8,000 square foot building, a former community center, into a hub of activities such as drumming, dancing, dressing, storytelling, reading, and arts and crafts.

“We want children to know the untold story of African civilizations before the slavery era,” says Armstrong, originally from Ghana, who ran a famous clothing and gift shop in Charles Village with her husband.

“By connecting young people to their roots in Africa, we hope to contribute to their sense of identity and self-worth, and perhaps help prevent the negative behaviors we see happening today,” he said. she declared.

Children and attendants at a recent event at the museum. (

As the only museum dedicated to educating children about Africa in Maryland — or anywhere in the United States, according to Clemmer’s research — Sankofa relies on private support and a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers. .

Tomorrow, the museum will open its doors to the public, previewing the vast collection of art that Clemmer has amassed over the years and “delighting in all things African”, including food, dance and authentic clothes.

TOMORROW: a celebration

WHEN: Saturday, October 26, between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
WHERE: Pimlico Road Arts & Community Center (southwest corner of Pimlico Road and Cold Spring Avenue)
ACTIVITIES: overview of museum exhibits, dancing to world beats, silent auction, food, prizes
COST: $67 donation
DRESS: African dress encouraged

MUSEUM ARTIFACTS: The throne used by the kings of the Bamileke tribe in Cameron and (below) a bronze sculpture of Sao warriors in Chad, estimated to be around 150 years old.  (Marc Reutter)

MUSEUM ARTIFACTS: A throne used by the kings of the Bamileke tribe in Cameroon and a bronze sculpture of Sao warriors from Chad estimated to be around 150 years old. (Marc Reutter)

return of the Sao warriors (bronze, Chad)

Africa all year round

The inspiration for the museum came from an experiment conducted during Black History Month with third- and fourth-grade students from two schools in the city.

The couple hosted a session where students, parent-chaperones and teachers not only heard about ancient and current African cultures, but “interacted with them,” Armstrong said, trying on African clothes, playing African instruments and participating in personal stories.

“It was a resounding success,” she said. “They begged us to introduce this to the kids every day, not just during Black History Month.”

Over time, the couple hope to offer parents and the public lessons in African arts and traditions.

But for now, they’re sticking to elementary school students who can come to class at the museum for two-hour learning and fun sessions.

PREPARING FOR THE OPEN HOUSE: Djouma Sidibe, Jim Clemmer, Esther Armstrong, Deborah Mason (museum director), John Viles (exhibition designer), Zattura Sims-El and Madeline Mendy.  (Marc Reutter)

GET READY: Jim Clemmer and Esther Armstrong joined museum director Djouma Sidibe yesterday, museum director Deborah Mason, exhibit designer John Viles and volunteers Zattura Sims-El and Madeline Mendy. (Marc Reutter)

The name of the museum expresses their purpose. Sankofa is a word from the Akan tribe in Ghana which means “Go back and take it” or “Look back and seek it”. It is symbolized by a bird with its legs planted forward and its head turned back.

The word and image represent the importance of understanding the past to progress in the future, according to Clemmer.

“We want to bring this message to the communities and children of Baltimore who have been deprived of their rich heritage.”

The founders of the museum in front of the Pimlico Road Arts & Community Center.  (Marc Reutter)

The founders of the museum in front of the Pimlico Road Arts & Community Center. (Marc Reutter)

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