By Darlene Donloe
LOS ANGELES — Plans to create an African cultural center aimed at building bridges between Africans, African Americans, Afro-Latinos and Caribbeans are underway.
An African-themed visioning event, sponsored by the Black History & Lifestyle Awards, will take place June 16 at the City Club of Los Angeles. It will serve as a kickoff and fundraiser for the project.
During the event, the African Cultural Centre of Los Angeles visioning committee will unveil a rendering of the proposed first-of-its-kind center in Los Angeles, introduce the concept to guests, and solicit participation in short- and long-term efforts to establish the center.
Still in its initial planning stage, the purpose of the center will be to provide local residents and visitors with a place to learn about the richness and diversity of the African diaspora.
The short- and long-term vision includes soliciting the participation of Mayor Karen Bass, the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors.
Two founding board members leading the charge are Folashade “Shadé” Balogun, founder and CEO of the Black History & Lifestyle Awards and CEO of House of SOTA, and Walter Njboke, who owns several businesses, manages investment properties and is the owner of Winston and Lee, an Italian men’s suit and leather goods company.
“The event is designed to allow attendees to see and understand our vision,” said Njboke, who moved to Los Angeles from Nigeria 36 years ago. “We want them to be part of the development. We are looking for stakeholders and an advisory council, people who are interested in being part of the vision.
“We want to create a place where people from different backgrounds can see that they are connected across continents and time.”
One of the reasons the committee wanted to establish the center, according to Njboke, is “because of the disconnect of African Americans, Afro Latinos and the rest in L.A.”
“It’s time for us to bridge the gap,” he said. “We are all the same. There is this misconception that African Americans who were brought here originally — the belief they think Africans don’t understand their plight and what they went through over the years.”
Njboke said there is an “underlying rift” between Africans and African Americans that isn’t talked about.
“The ‘disconnect people’ think that the ones who came here are better than the ones who were brought here,” he said. “We all face the same challenges. The sooner we talk about it, the sooner we can walk collectively.”
It’s Njboke’s hope that the center will transcend race and unite the history of many older communities by sharing stories that helped shape the social fabric of Los Angeles.
Balogun, who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria 10 years ago, said helping her colleagues in Los Angeles realize the vision of establishing a home in the city for African culture is a personal passion of hers.
“We have a rich culture,” said Balogun, who currently lives in Florida but has plans to move to Los Angeles. “We have to showcase our culture and teach people who want to know about Africa. Once a visitor enters, we want them to know it’s an African cultural center.”
Njboke, 55, said the proposed African Cultural Center will serve as a community hub for African arts, culture and history with classes on hair braiding, cooking, tie-dying, modeling, dance, arts and crafts classes for children, a library, an art gallery, an African restaurant and more.
“We want to include things that will empower kids and help everyone be more self-sufficient,” Njboke said. “I’ve been involved with a lot of philanthropic organizations for 15 years. I’ve also been thinking about developing an African Cultural Center for 15 years.”
Njboke came to the U.S. alone, with no family members, when he was 17.
“When I got here, because of luck and through the help of strangers, I’ve been involved sitting on about seven boards of charter schools,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to give back. This country has given me a lot. I feel a need to give back. For me, the construction of the African Cultural Centre would give me the ability to pay it forward. This is my obligation.”
“The center will also serve as a place where indigenous communities from the broader Los Angeles area can connect with indigenous African communities and culture to help establish indigenous linkages across the North American and African continents,” said Hector Perez-Pacheco, a member of the Commission for the City of the Los Angeles Workforce Development, and the Los Angeles County Community Action Board.
UCLA Black Alumni Association President Michelle Johnson is slated to help bridge the gap and engage the Los Angeles Pan-African community in the development of the project.
Nate Hart, vice president of Business Development for Mission Community Hospital said, “It is exciting to be an integral part in the creation of a cultural hub that will heal rifts in our city and build bridges across races. There aren’t sufficient places in Los Angeles for African Americans to celebrate our connection to Africa year-round. This cultural center will complement existing African American cultural and historical centers, as well as the myriad of centers celebrating Latino and Asian cultures.”
Although financing for the project has not been secured, Njboke said the board of directors is confident in its ability to raise the funds.
“We don’t have the money yet,” he said. “At this point, we are doing the teaser-visioning event to introduce the idea to our community. We want to introduce the project to policymakers, government officials and donors. We want to get land and property purchased or even given to the organization to build the center. We anticipate breaking ground in the next two years.”
Njboke said no site has been secured but he anticipates the center will require 35,000 square feet.
Sites under consideration include the Wilshire Corridor, the Larchmont area, Westwood and Leimert Park.
The African Cultural Centre of Los Angeles visioning event will be held at 6:30 p.m. June 16 at City Club of Los Angeles, 555 Flower St., 51st floor, in downtown Los Angeles.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.