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Baltimore Museum Draws Hundreds to Focus on King’s Message

The DeVeaux family
The DeVeaux family was among hundreds of visitors who enjoyed the Reginald F. Lewis Museum's art and history exhibits on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Carl and Lisa DeVeaux are raising four kids—ages two to 18—and between work, school, and assorted activities, their daily lives are hectic to say the least.

Yet staying at home and relaxing on the Martin Luther King Jr., holiday wasn't a viable option for the family of six, who reside in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

Instead, the couple bundled up baby Ava and older siblings Cayla, C.J., and college student Najae—and drove to Baltimore. Here, they spent the afternoon at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, named for the late business mogul who rose from humble beginnings to earn a Harvard degree and build a multibillion global enterprise.

The DeVeaux clan was among hundreds of visitors who enjoyed the museum's art and history exhibits, dance, music, film and more. Indeed, across the country, millions of Americans paid homage to the Civil Rights icon in different ways—from religious programs to peaceful protests that dovetailed with King's stance on non-violence.

Turn of Endearment by James Pate
"Turn of Endearment" is a part of the exhibit, "Kin Killin' Kin", a series of images from visual artist James Pate that meditate on the epidemic of youth violence in the African American community. Reginald F. Lewis Museum

"Each year on the King holiday we unplug from social media and do something culturally significant," said Lisa DeVeaux, a legal mediator who is originally from New York. "We're pretty transparent with our children about race relations and what's going on in the world, so bringing them to a place where they'd learn more about African American history was important."

RELATED: Gallery: Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Civil Rights Icon's Life in Pictures

Inside the Lewis museum, adults and children of all ages, races and nationalities mingled. On one level, folks watched a dance troupe perform or listened to African drumming. On another floor, children created original drawings of Dr. King.

Other visitors strolled among exhibits such as Sons: Seeing the Modern African American Male, and Kin Killin' Kin -- the latter a series of images from visual artist James Pate that meditate on the epidemic of youth violence in the African American community.

MLK Day: Reginald F. Lewis Museum
“Kin Killin’ Kin” is a series of images from visual artist James Pate that meditate on the epidemic of youth violence in the African American community. Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Rendered primarily in black and white charcoal, the stark portrayals place young black males and their peers in urban settings, or at historic events such as the March on Washington. They're dressed in stylized Ku Klux Klan garb, intended to suggest contemporary clothing trends like hoodies.

Wanda Draper, the museum's new executive director, said Pate's work is designed to engage youth and the broader community in acknowledging gun violence as one of the social ills of this era.

"It's very powerful and timely," said Draper of the exhibit, curated by Willis Bing Davis and organized by SHANGO: Center for the Study of African American Art and Culture, Inc., and EbonNia Gallery. "One of the things we're trying to do in the museum is open dialogue in the community and seek solutions."

Reginald F. Lewis Museum
Kimberly Williams' two sons Miles, 7, and Torian, 3, write on a special chalkboard wall set up for museum-goers to leave comments. Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Dr. Elaine Marshall, a professor, brought her adult daughter and two grandsons to the museum. "I lived through the era of King and he is one of my heroes," she explained. "He made tremendous sacrifices—giving his life—and young people need to know who he is and what was done."

Nearby, her grandsons—Miles, 7, and three-year-old Torian—wrote on a special chalkboard wall set up for museum-goers to leave comments. Their mother, Kimberly Williams, a teacher in Baltimore City public schools, asked them to describe concepts such as "fairness" and "love."

One of the boys replied that "love means giving a kiss."

"They're using age appropriate language, but they do understand that King had a dream and a goal of peace," said Williams. "If we can teach our children these concepts, the world will be a better place."