The African American Family and Cultural Center: A Path for Positive Change

By: Camille Lorenzana

A community is more than a geographic region. It involves people, how they communicate, learn, and benefit from one another. A strong community promotes social interaction and growth. By focusing on common needs, ideals, and goals, a whole community is advanced.

On May 19, 2010, Youth for Change and the Butte County Department of Behavioral Health opened the African American Family and Cultural Center (AAFCC) located at 3300 Spencer Avenue in Southside Oroville. The institution was designed to unite a community in need of reclaiming, restoring, and revitalizing African American cultural heritages, values, and identities. Funding is provided through Prop. 63, the Mental Health Services Act.

African American Family & Cultural Center

While the highest concentration of African Americans in Butte County is in Oroville, African Americans only represent 2.67 percent of the city population. For years, residents longed for a sense of belonging in a community lacking diversity and adequate services to meet the needs of its people.

Since its opening, the AAFCC has implemented mental health programs for Southside Oroville residents. The programs include mental health counseling, alcohol and drug intervention programs, anger management classes for youths, arts and crafts, and many more.

While the AAFCC was created to fulfill the needs of the African American community at large, the center welcomes and encourages people of all ethnicities to utilize the center.

The AAFCC has also worked to create an environment where residents are not only encouraged to use the services already implemented, but also to use the center as a resource for other programs in the community.

"We've been working with organizations to find out exactly what they're doing," said Bobby Jones, senior AAFCC director. "Even if we don't provide certain information, we will know where to channel people to."

All the programs and services provided at the AAFCC are free and available to all. Because the AAFCC is a nonprofit organization, each volunteer has made a personal commitment to have an impact on those looking for encouragement. The camaraderie within the center creates a constructive environment for everyone to thrive.

"If you have someone on your staff that has passion for the work they're doing, nothing else matters," Jones said.

A variety of people walk through the AAFCC doors each day. As of now, children are using the center most.

The uplifting environment has had a positive influence on behavior, motivating children to step out of their comfort zone to reach their full potential, Jones said. However, as the number of children using the center rises, so does the need for volunteers.

"I would love if I could get people involved," said Jones. "It's not about the money, it's about time.".

While the 30-minute drive can be discouraging, Jones urges students at Chico State to take advantage of the opportunity to become involved with the center, because he realizes the impact it can have on the children at the center. College students mentoring, tutoring, and being a friend or role model to the children gives them a chance to see opportunities they might not be exposed to otherwise.

"I'm all about education," he said. "I graduated from Chico State, and I understand. I don't want to call it just a piece of paper, but I understand the doors that it opens."

The next step the AAFCC wants to take is adding programs that focus specifically on uniting and strengthening families.

"If the kids are going home to a mess, the things that we're teaching here are not being effective," Jones said.

Even though the AAFCC is in its infancy, the center's community advisory team is actively working with the public to strategize ways to best serve and involve members in Southside Oroville. For members closely involved, the AAFCC is a place where people can convene, connect, and celebrate the essence of the community.

Steven Thomas, the arts and leisure activities coordinator, has seen the center improve the lives of people around him, which, in return, has improved the community as a whole.

"What keeps me coming back here every day is the potential of this community to actually heal itself and become a united front," Thomas said.

While the center continues to develop and implement programs, Jones highlights the opportunity to step up and make a difference.

"Now is the time to take action and support positive change in the community," he said.

African American Family and Cultural Center Programs

African American Lecture Series

A variety of lectures on African American history and current issues designed to increase self-esteem and cultural awareness for community members.

Art Club 101

Youth ages 8 and up Eight-week program designed to teach cultural art from an African American-based curriculum.

Kuumba Corner

Ages 13 and up Participants gather to engage in a particular craft during a triweekly series of lessons.

Personal Peace Institute

Youth, ages 10 to 21 Program that teaches acceptable expression and management of angry feelings through nonviolent communication skills.

Southside Alcoholic Anonymous Fellowship

Open to all Peer-facilitated group that offers the path to recovery in a traditional Alcoholics Anonymous model.

The Open Mic Showcase

Open to all Designed to showcase community talent and creative expression through open mic sessions.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

Open to all Certified members work with the IRS to prepare people's taxes for free. For more information about these or other AAFCC programs, please call the center at 530-532-1205.