Children celebrate Kwanzaa |

Children celebrate Kwanzaa

by Maggie O'Neill
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Isha Echols, left, talks to a group of children at the Nevada Children's Museum Monday afternoon as part of a seven-day Kwanzaa festival. Echols told stories, sang and made crafts with the children.

Although many children attending a Kwanzaa celebration at the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada knew of the festival from teachers at school, none of them had ever experienced the first-hand education provided by Fran “Isha” Echols.

The black woman from Reno has taught at children’s museums across the United States, and is intent on sharing and living the Kwanzaa experience.

“Every day of Kwanzaa is a celebration,” she said to a group of 12 children and even more parents Monday. “Some of us are audacious enough or bold enough to celebrate Kwanzaa 365 days a year.”

Echols invited the children to sing along with her simple words about lifting up those around them: brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and even crossing guards.

“I want to lift the whole world up,” she sang with the children. “It is not heavy. If I don’t lift it up, we might fall down.”

Katharyn Wood, 9, a Fritsch Elementary School student, was among the children listening to Echols sing, share stories and tell of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

“I thought it was good because she’s teaching about other cultures,” Katharyn said. “I think this is a little different than Christmas or Halloween. Those holidays last for one day. This one lasts for seven.”

Children colored in pictures of a kinara, a fixture of seven candles. Three red, three green and one black candle represent the seven days of Kwanzaa.

“The kinara is actually the candle holder,” said Echols’ goddaughter Sheron Jackson. “The red candles represent blood, or struggle; the black represents the people; and the green represent the land.”

Aaron Richardson, 8, told Echols the candles reminded him of the Jewish menorah, only two candles less.

“Kwanzaa is like a special thing,” he said.

Alan Ma and Claire Kuo of California stopped in at the museum to fill up some vacation time in Northern Nevada. The Chinese couple brought their 3-year-old daughter, Ashley, with them.

“We were just looking for some activity to do,” Ma said. “Most of our friends are Chinese. This will be a good education for (Ashley). I don’t know how much she can get, but it’s important to participate.”

More than 650 million people now celebrate Kwanzaa worldwide, according to Echols. The festival’s roots are in African harvest festivals. It became prominent in the 1960s, after Dr. Maulana Kerenga transformed it into a celebration to bring black people together.

“This time with these young children satisfied me so much,” Echols said. “This is what it needs to be about.”

Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at or 881-1219.