By Dana Rettig, Chicago Crusader
Before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the civil rights movement along with Rosa Parks and a few others, he was a pastor, sharing the importance of establishing a relationship with God. Before Malcolm X became a devout Muslim, he lacked proper guidance, yet was encouraged by a friend to inspire others to prosper in life and nurture their families through literacy and self-awareness. What these leaders and other before them have in common is that they created historical moments for us to appreciate our past.
Peggy A. Montes joins the ranks of these trailblazers, who have not only dreamed, but also shaped a better future for others when she established the Bronzeville Children’s Museum.
It is the first and only African American children’s museum in the United States created for children 3-9 years of age.
Prior to becoming the founder and president of an African-American children’s museum, Ms. Peggy A. Montes was an educator and chairman of the Counseling and Guidance Department at Percy Julian High School. As an activist in the museum community, Montes had a desire to create an establishment for African-American children and parents alike.
While attending a museum conference in Houston, Texas, over twenty-years ago, Montes decided that it was time to create an African American children’s museum that promotes history, the importance of learning, health, STEM, as well as other topics that she knew would help make an impact in children’s lives. “I wanted to establish a museum that teaches everyone of the history and contributions of African-American inventors. [At the time] there weren’t any African-American museums,” she affirmed.
“Our goal is to expose all children from ages three to nine to the precedent, culture, and contributions of African-Americans through unique exhibits and interactive programs,” she said, adding: “The Bronzeville Children’s Museum is very unique because it is the only one of its kind and the largest African-American children’s museum out of three-hundred museums worldwide.”
The museum is named after Bronzeville, a once thriving “city-within a city” of Chicago’s African American life and culture. In this area they created a booming business, cultural, political, and residential center known at first as Black Metropolis and later as Bronzeville. Although located at 9301 S. Stony Island Ave., Montes says Bronzeville is not delegated to a specific small part of Chicago anymore and the name is representative of where African American live and have their existence today.
There are eight special programs held throughout the year. The Smart Money Week is one of those special programs the museum participants in each year. It kicked off Saturday, April 22 and runs through Saturday, April 29 at the museum with a special guest from the financial industry. The children hear a special presentation on saving, budgeting money designed for their age. They also are given an opportunity to put their knowledge to the test in one of the knowledge room containing a grocery store. Montes also wears a special jacket covered with a money print that the children love.
She resumed, adding: “There are three sections in the facility: The Tree Of Knowledge, The Book Of Knowledge and The House of Knowledge. Each is a different room where the children hear a very engaging presentation and then they participate in an interactive learning session before being guided on the next tour—next room.
“The book of knowledge is the place where parents and children can read various topics, whether it’s history, children’s books, or just about anything that will help children understand the importance of literacy,” she affirmed, proudly. “And lastly, there’s the House Of Knowledge, which contains the STEM games. The House of Knowledge contains games and costumes for children to portray what they would like to be when they grow up, such as, a physician, engineer, bank teller, educator, and so on,” she declared, happily.
“It inspires children to think about what they’d like to become in the future. It helps them tell their parents what they’ve learned instead of how much ‘fun’ they had at the museum,” said Montes.
When asked if her establishment is competing with other museums, she explains, “There isn’t any competition at all. We’re very unique in terms of kids’ museums, presentations and goals are concerned,” Montes said.
For more information on the Bronzeville Children’s Museum, call 773-721-9301 or go to www.bronzevillechildrensmuseum.com.