Fundisha Enterprises and Step into the Story bring African-American stories to life at Missouri History Museum

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Do your kids have a serious case of summer slump? The Missouri History Museum has the cure. The Summer Family Fun series offers a wide variety of free programs inspired by local cultures and themes in the Museum’s exhibits.

Families are invited to the museum on Sunday afternoon, July 21, for a free performance of “Fundisha Family Folktale: The Saltwater Princess.” Mama Lisa Gage, the founder of Fundisha Enterprises, explained, “The Saltwater Princess is a tale of mystery about the moon. This production will mix African performance arts with its transformational forms as manifested in the Caribbean. There will be an emphasis on color and life in the sea. The music and dance will showcase original as well as familiar island favorites.”

 Since 1995, Fundisha Enterprises has provided African cultural arts education services, and for more than 15 years Mama Lisa has been working with the museum to bring African performance arts to children across the region. “Fundisha’s arts intend to uplift the creativity and intelligence of cultures that are sometimes marginalized,” Mama Lisa said. “Pan-African culture deserves a platform to express its multifaceted antiquities, free from censorship and discrimination.”

Fundisha’s productions begin with extensive research, often gathered through interviews, private lessons, and museum visits during Mama Lisa’s frequent travels throughout the Americas, the Caribbean, and Africa. She added, “Performance arts, in some cases, represent a genre of historical data not found in print. Its scope presents concepts that can be understood by a global audience.”

“The Saltwater Princess” is just one of many ways to share stories at the Missouri History Museum this summer. More than 100 children and caregivers gathered on June 27 to celebrate the fourth birthday of the museum’s History Clubhouse, a hands-on learning space for children. The party featured stories, unique crafts, festive birthday crowns, and—of course—cupcakes. Children were invited to gently pet or read aloud to Sergeant Pepper and Zoe, two touch-therapy dogs who work with CHAMP Assistance Dogs. Therapy dogs are regular guests at Step into the Story, a drop-in storytelling and activity program on Thursday mornings throughout the month of July.

At this program, children created shoebox-sized museums and drew birthday cakes for the History Clubhouse while listening to “Our Children Can Soar” and “Milo’s Museum,” two books about African-American history and cultural representation in museums.

Julius B. Anthony, president of St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature and author of “Me! Ten Poetic Affirmations,” mentioned that only 6 percent of all children’s books feature African-American characters or families as the protagonists.  “This renders an entire group of people invisible,” Anthony said. “All children have the right to see themselves in the books they read.”

He said he appreciates how the museum’s Step into the Story program unites children from all over the city, giving them a chance to learn together about different communities and perspectives. Since 2016, St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature has worked with the museum to promote literacy and cultural representation.

Crystal Fisher, a preschool teacher, praised Step into the Story as a way of breaking up summer monotony and exposing kids to new, age-appropriate ideas. “This is all they’ll talk about on the bus ride back,” she predicted.

Mama Lisa encouraged families to attend the museum’s programs together for benefits that will last well beyond summer: “The important job of captivating a child’s imagination through storytelling will transfer into profound humanitarian efforts in the future. So experiencing and participating in cultural events as a family adds value in the eyes of a child.”

“Fundisha Family Folktale: The Saltwater Princess” will be performed on Sunday, July 21, at 3 p.m. in the Missouri History Museum’s Lee Auditorium. Mama Lisa and Fundisha Enterprises deliver this musical mystery that unlocks secrets from a child’s life on an island in the Caribbean. This free family event is open to all ages.

St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature is committed to fostering awareness about the importance of early literacy by creating opportunities for all kids to have access to black children’s literature. Learn more at stlblackauthors.com. Step into the Story is part of the Summer Fun Family series at the Missouri History Museum, which runs through July 26. See mohistory.org/summer-family-fun for daily schedules. The History Clubhouse is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission to the museum and clubhouse is free.

Ellen Kunkelmann is associate editor of the Missouri Historical Society.

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