Martin Luther King's ideals honored at Children's Museum in Pittsburgh

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The energetic beat of the Ngoma drum echoed in the high ceiling of the room, ushering in five dancers, all dressed in colorful Congolese clothing.

Sister IAsa Thomas and members of the Umoja African Arts Company led more than 100 children and their parents in "We Shall Overcome," a freedom circle and singalong at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh on Monday.

The activity was one of many put on by the museum Monday, along with numerous events across the city to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Children's Museum hosted a day of activities and performances, aiming to educate young people about King's legacy and the civil rights movement.

Many of the museum's activities encouraged active participation. Attendees were able to read excerpts of King's speeches and create art projects to take home. More than 1,600 people visited the museum Monday, according to Bill Schlageter, director of marketing for the museum.

Ms. Thomas, who has danced with the Umoja African Arts Company for 17 years, said the act of singing and dancing together is engaging and impactful.

The dances and chants are drawn from Congolese and Central African traditions. Musicians performed on Conga, Ngoma and Djembe drums, keyboard and vocals. Monday's performance showcased themes of fighting, reconciliation and community celebration.

During the performance, dancers and musicians led the audience in chants using both traditional songs and King's words.

"When they chant 'I have a dream' through call and response, it has the possibility to move across cultures," Ms. Thomas said.

Ms. Thomas said her group chose to connect traditional African dance with lessons of the civil rights movement to remind people of a shared history. "Spectators will see that the civil rights movement has its roots in Africa," she said. "There is one continent of origin."

Parents Todd Hoffman and Debbie Brake of Forest Hills said they brought their two daughters as a learning experience.

"We wanted to mark the day in a meaningful way," Ms. Brake said, adding that their 8-year-old daughter, Charlotte, read a portion of King's speeches earlier in the afternoon.

Rosemary Moriarty, who serves on the museum's board of directors, said she brought her three grandchildren to remind them although they didn't have school, it wasn't just a day off.

"It's so important for them to connect to the day in a fun, hands-on manner," she said. "We didn't allow this to be a do-nothing day."

Lauren Lindstrom: or 412-263-1964.

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