A Place for Us, by Us: The Center for Black Cultures, Resources and Research

by Alexis Cormier

Photo courtesy of The Center for Black Cultures, Research, and Resources

The African-American student population at UC Irvine is currently at the highest it’s ever been: 3 percent. Inside the Center for Black Cultures, Resources and Research (CBCRR), the African-American population is 100 percent and pridefully so.

The center is small yet packed with culture, students and liveliness. Painted in shades of gold and orange, the walls hold pieces of African art and coloring pages done by students as a way to practice self-care and display their creativity. Complete with a study room, couches, a television and some light jazz playing in the background, the CBCRR has become a space that black students utilize on a daily basis whether to study, find resources or to simply relax.

“It’s a safe, fun place where we can just come and listen to music or study or just hang out,” says Tristan Shelby, a second-year art student, “where we can be with and meet other black people on campus. We all feel really comfortable here.”

Bryant Parker, a fifth-year urban studies student, says, “I love it a lot. I come here quite often as a fifth-year since I have a lot of spare time. I tend to use it mostly as a lounge space for me, just to be around people who are like me and to chill.”

The CBCRR was brought to life by the Black Student Union demands team, who for years pleaded and fought with UCI Student Affairs to create a space for black students that would provide resources, counseling and job opportunities. After many conferences, protests and negotiations, the CBCRR was opened in fall 2017 and has been thriving ever since.

Adisa Ajamu was placed at the head of it as director.

“The mission of the CBCRR is to provide a just, safe, vibrant, inclusive, culturally supportive and socio-ecologically sustainable space for black students, faculty and staff,” Ajamu says.

He continues, “It’s a home away from home where black students can thrive and reach for their highest potential and hopefully discover their genius.”

Over 30 students visit the center each day, which, given its newness, Ajamu is content with.

The CBCRR is home to many black-oriented programs and events, held both inside and out of the center. “Space,” hosted every Thursday night, is a program aimed towards queer and questioning black individuals to create a supportive and inclusive network. Every other Tuesday, black women gather to the Center to get to know their community and encourage sisterhood, a time that they call “Sista Circle.”

One of the pillars of the Center that many of the programs hope to achieve is the process of health and healing.

“There’s a lot of microaggressive, problematic, racist stuff that happens to students out here on the daily…so we need a coping mechanism to deal with that,” Parker says. “We need a place to talk, to vent, to be ourselves and this space provides that safe space for us to cope and relax.”

As a result of the demands made by BSU, the center has an all-black staff of students and faculty, including nine student positions overseeing various areas of the center as well as an academic advisor and senior-staff psychologist.

Photo courtesy of The Center for Black Cultures, Research, and Resources

Talia Green, a second-year criminology, law and society student, is an apprentice director to the Center focusing on communication and outreach. She believes that the center has not only made a positive impact on students, but also one that is tailored to black students’ interest.

“Having a space that is designed for us and exclusively for us is so dope. It definitely enhances my experience here [at UCI],” says Green.

Having only been open for less than two quarters, Ajamu knows the Center still has plenty of room to grow and even has a three-year plan to outline its goals. As of right now, he says, it are on track.

Green says, “Our main goal is to serve the community and provide for the students any resources that they need or want, whether that be for self-care or academics.      Hopefully, we can continue to bring new things that will continue to support us and uplift us as a community.”