Silicon Valley Black cultural center receives funding boost
Walter Wilson, the project manager for the African American Cultural Center, said about 9,000 Black residents have left the county in the last five years. Photo by Julia Forrest.

    As Silicon Valley’s Black population continues to shrink, local leaders are celebrating a decades-long effort with a new cultural center to honor the history and contributions of Black residents.

    The Silicon Valley African American Cultural Center is slated to open its doors in 2027, with the help of $3 million in state funds thanks to the efforts of state Sen. Dave Cortese.

    The center, at 2001 The Alameda, will serve Black residents from across the region by providing 135 rental homes, of which 20% will be affordable housing. The redevelopment will include a health clinic, performing arts theater, museum, athletic facilities and various stores. Regina Williams, a project consultant, said the total price tag of the center will cost between $150 to $200 million.

    Walter Wilson, who is also a project manager for the center, said about $25 million has been raised and within 24 months he hopes the project will be fully funded, through private donations and financial partnerships.

    Cortese said the project has been more than 25 years in the making and will help an underrepresented part of the community by providing much needed community resources.

    “We elected officials and others are going to step up now and make this a reality now,” Cortese told San José Spotlight.

    Plans for the future center come as the region has seen Black residents leave the area in large numbers. The U.S. Census data shows that between 1990-2019 San Jose lost about 17.6% of its Black population. From 2000-2012, San Jose’s Black population decreased another 12%, according to city data.

    As of 2020, census data reported 30,288 Black residents in San Jose and 45,968 countywide. Wilson said about 9,000 Black residents have left the county in the last five years. But the exodus extends beyond San Jose—local leaders said the entire Bay Area has seen a steady decline of Black residents since the 1960s.

    Critics say San Jose has witnessed thousands of Black residents leaving the area over time because of  historically racist policies such as segregation and redlining, compounded by an inequity in social programs, public contracts, education and policing.

    Williams said the cultural center could help attract new Black residents as well as give current Black residents more of a reason to stay. She said there is real value in Black residents having a space where they are surrounded by those who share similar experiences.

    “Our roots are not as strong as they could be,” Williams told San José Spotlight. “That’s because there’s nowhere you can go to see Black people, to buy things from Black retailers, to experience your kids having programs that serve them and other folks who look like them.”

    Additional concerns were highlighted when Wilson collected data on Black businesses earlier this year. He found both the county and San Jose do not equitably allocate contracts for public infrastructure projects. Though Black people only account for under 3% of the county’s population, they get less than 1% of public contracts. The county is currently conducting its own disparity study that is projected to be released this summer.

    Wilson noted the housing component is especially crucial, as it will help provide necessary housing to Black residents.

    “There’s really no place for Black people,” Wilson told San José Spotlight. “People need to have a place that we can say is our own. That’s going to be huge.”

    The Black community in Silicon Valley and across the nation face additional systemic disparities: according to the 2023 Silicon Valley Pain Index, which focuses on racial discrimination and wealth inequality in the region, only 14% of Black and Latino households can afford a median-priced home in the region.

    Williams said that she is excited to see the cultural center open its doors in a few years.

    “This is really going to happen in a short timeframe in the next few years and so we’re just so excited,” Williams said. “We know that all these partners that we have really are invested in us as a community.”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

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