The Kansas African American Museum is celebrating Kansas roots with its debut We Are Family Reunion weekend event. The two-day celebration features genealogy workshops, live bands, community choirs, an ice cream social and children’s activities.
“When you know more about your past, it makes your future brighter,” Prisca Barnes, the museum’s executive director, said. “It makes you proud of who you are if you know where you come from.”
We Are Family is an extension of a 2009 Knowing You, Knowing Me statewide genealogy grant awarded to the museum. The grant focused on capturing and archiving stories of the African-American experience in Kansas.
Barnes said the museum wants to serve as a catalyst for people learning about their past. This two-day celebration will include workshops on preserving pictures, deciding what to save and tracing family trees.
“It’s meant to be a fun introduction to a subject that can seem overwhelming,” Angela Scott, the museum’s education director, said. “A lot of the programming will be on deciding where to begin.”
The museum’s initiative inspired Wichita City Council member Lavonta Williams to research her family tree.
“We know that we are American, but we want to know about that other part of our lineage,” Williams said.
With the museum’s inspiration, Williams delved further into her Choctaw branches and also discovered her tree has roots in Nigeria.
“I think everybody should have the opportunity to see where your roots are,” Williams said. “This is a celebration for everybody.”
On Saturday morning, the celebration will begin with a welcome speech from Williams and a parade marshaled by Rosie Hughes. Hughes’ photographs of Wichita in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s are on display at the museum, 601 N. Water, and will be available for viewing Saturday.
“She took photographs of Black Wichita,” Scott said. “These photographs are our history. It speaks to the importance of preservation.”
Hughes and her husband did not realize the value of these photographs, but they knew they wanted to document this historical time.
“It was a hobby that turned into a job,” Hughes said. “As the generations pass, they can see what we used to do.”