By Renee Foose, Special to the AFRO
Esther K. Armstrong and her husband Jim have been selling African artifacts, clothing, jewelry, and gifts out of their Sankofa African & World Bazaar store in Charles Village for over twenty-five years. Armstrong, a native of Ghana, West Africa, moved to the United States in 1981 and lived in New York before relocating to Maryland.
Troubled by reports of African-American school dropouts and violent juvenile crimes committed in Baltimore dominating the news, Armstrong became convinced that a children’s museum focused on African history and culture, as well as modern societies, would help turn this trend around. She said she reflected on the philosophy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who stated with conviction that “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, are like a tree without roots.” Armstrong told the AFRO she believes Baltimore City youth do not see themselves reflected in the great achievements of other African Americans. She believes there is a connection between low socio-economic status, poor self-esteem, disinterest in education and the cycle of crime, arrests, despair and hopelessness, and she is committed to helping change this perspective.
Ms. Esther with her troupe at a Black History Month event in 2016. (Courtesy Photo)
Armstrong’s determination to combat the problems plaguing Baltimore and many decaying urban areas has motivated her to put together an innovative Board of Directors for what she hopes will be the first children’s museum focused on African heritages. “The new board of directors for the Sankofa Children’s Museum of African Cultures is committed to uplifting our communities and believe it must begin with our children” Armstrong said. “Our dedicated volunteers are determined to instill a sense of pride in our youth, thereby affecting positive change in “Charm City.” We envision that museum will not only serve as a tool to uplift our city’s under-served population, it will also become a tourist attraction for visitors nationwide. A residual benefit will be the creation of greatly needed jobs and employment training for students” Armstrong told the AFRO.
Preliminary plans are for the museum to be located in the Park Heights area with an opening date scheduled for early spring 2019.
Armstrong shared in a written statement to the AFRO her goal is to provide an integrative educational experience, targeting elementary and middle school aged-children and their families. “We strongly believe that connecting African-American children to their rich history and culture will put them on a trajectory to future success. All American families and those from other cultures will also benefit from these experiences because such experiences will foster understanding and tolerance in the whole community. We will incorporate the study of ancient and modern Africa into the education mainstream in a safe, meaningful and exciting learning environment. Our hands on, interactive programs will be designed to spark creativity and curiosity, igniting a lifelong love of learning” she wrote.
The Sankofa Children’s Museum of Africa is a charitable organization with 501 (c) (3) status that allows for tax deductible donations. To donate, become involved, or to learn more about the Museum contact Esther Armstrong at 410-684-9814.