Approved by Berkeley City Council on Tuesday, the African American Holistic Resource Center, or AAHRC, will provide an opportunity to address health inequities within Berkeley at its new permanent home at 1890 Alcatraz Ave.
“It’s a collaborative effort. We’ll be working in concert with other community-based and city organizations using a culturally responsive framework,” said Babalwa Kwanele, an AAHRC steering committee member and project lead. “It is really uniquely different; it’s using those community approaches to healing and treatment and information on learning as it relates to the social determinants of health.”
According to Kwanele, preconstruction of a physical facility for the new program is currently underway. The project itself began with the African American/Black Professionals & Community Network, or AABPCN, a network of professionals and community members in the city.
The group recognized a community need for a center, developed a concern and put together an initial document, eventually leading to the creation of a feasibility study for the center in 2018 and ultimately the project’s current development status, Kwanele noted.
“The people who put it together are the communities,” Kwanele said. “It’s a true grassroots movement around addressing the social determinants of health inequities that are happening within the city and within the African American communities.”
The center held a community meeting Monday, the first in a series of feedback and candidate input sessions to come, to gather community input regarding the design of the building and identifying their wants and needs for both the interior and exterior, Kwanele noted.
The ultimate goal is to formulate a comprehensive design plan for the building based on a full community effort, Kwanele added. During the meeting, people were able to provide input, feedback and even personal testimonies to recognize their needs.
Based on the given information, the architectural team will then be able to begin to outline the building design, looking at how to create a safe space for the people receiving services inside.
“The center itself is something that is essentially open for the whole community,” Kwanele said. “It is a beautiful project that is coming to Berkeley with full support from the city and full support from many people within our community that are really looking forward to this.”
According to Scott Ferris, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation & Waterfront department in charge of building the center, the location currently houses an existing property that must be torn down because its structural elements are not up to code. Since renovation was implausible, the center returned to the council for the additional funding needed to build from scratch.
At this point, the center has all funding needed to build the existing facility, Ferris noted.
At its Tuesday meeting, city council discussed funding gaps in Measure T1 projects due to leaked shortfalls from the first phase into the second phase that needed to be addressed and closed, Kwanele said. As a T1 project, AAHRC wanted to ensure that the council was looking at where they were going to get particular funds from to ensure that the 6,000 square feet building is paid for.
“As the council addresses the shortfalls in T1 funding, we should act to preserve this vital opportunity to serve our African American residents better,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email.
At the meeting, the council agreed to move forward with funding and building the brand new 6,000 square feet center, Ferris noted. Ferris added that they have begun the conceptual design process and hope to start design development over the next few months, aiming to have the building constructed in fiscal year 2025.
The next community meeting will take place July 12 at the Frances Albrier Community Center from 5 to 7 p.m.
“Berkeley has entrenched health disparities that need to be addressed. The AAHRC (‘Arc’) represents a ten-year effort to heal these inequalities and represents a flagship initiative for the City of Berkeley,” said Vice Mayor and Councilmember Ben Bartlett in an email. “I am happy to see it move forward because the future deserves a fair shake.”
Madelyn Yu and Savan Bollu contributed to this coverage.