Since 1958, the African-American Cultural Center, Inc. has enabled spirits to soar and offered sanctuary, validation and celebration for the duality of being African and American.
The African American Cultural Center was founded by Malcolm Erni, an evangelist with Caribbean roots who had a devout faith in the virtue of his ancestry. Born and raised in Buffalo NY, Erni dreamed of a cultural and spiritual sanctuary where young people would learn that, God is a God of all races and ethnic group The first meetings of the African Cultural Center incorporated in the mid-60s as the African-American Cultural Center- were held on Friday and Saturday nights in a funeral home. Soon after, the group moved to the basement of a church near Glenwood Avenue, where drummer Oba-Ya began the first AACC drumming lessons. Infuriated, the clergy expelled Erni and his group in 1963.
In 1964 the Center found a new home at 382 Wohlers Avenue, and opened The African Door, which was a coffeehouse that served herbal tea and provided a stage and audience for artistic director Ameer Al-Haqq. New York choreographer Oliver Jones, a student of Baba Olatunji, and choreographers Helena Walker and Benji Owala joined the staff during this era, and native Buffalonian Carl Tillman began teaching creative writing. James Pappas then a student at the University at Buffalo, later a founder of the Langston Hughes Center for the Visual and Performing Arts and now a professor in the UB College of Arts and Sciences – offered instruction in the fundamentals of design and form. Erni also put into place a choral workshop.
Between 1966 and 1967 the Center moved to a Jefferson Avenue loft above a dentist office where the African drumming often competed with the drilling. At this home, model Helen Williams and renowned choreographer and folklorist Pearl Primus joined the AACC family, providing spiritual and cultural direction on a new level. Primus integrated Yoruba songs, dance, and principles into the Center’s curriculum, and became a major influence in establishing of the Center’s permanent home at 350 Masten Avenue.
The AACC first occupied the Masten Avenue location, which was a former welding business, as a tenant, maintaining its programs on a monthly United Fund stipend. With an eye toward the long term viability of the institution, Erni and the board mounted a capital campaign to raise funds to purchase the property and achieve a degree of financial independence.
Now under the guidance of Agnes M. Bain, the African American Cultural Center conitinues to evolve in response to the changing landscape of real time and the future. It serves clientele ages six through senior throughout the city of Buffalo, and remains a sentinel to Malcolm founding vision. With a careful eye on meeting the contemporary needs of its users and patrons, its mission remains steadfast to the guiding principles and ancient rhythms of the ancestry it promotes and preserves.
From the multi-disciplinary AACC Cultural Enrichment / Educational Directives for After School Program and Jumpin Jambalaya Summer Program, to the soul-stirring AACC Dance and Drum Performance Company (its cornerstone component), inspirational Paul Robeson Theatre and entertaining Pine Grill Jazz Reunion, the Center stands firmly committed to promoting a positive sense of self among the community it was founded to serve. Its programs and services are still structured to motivate personal growth, stimulate untapped potential and facilitate a better understanding of cultural diversity among all people.
The African American Cultural consists of five core components: the AACC Dance and Drum Performance Company, Paul Robeson Theatre at the African American Cultural Center, Pine Grill Jazz Reunion, Jumpinâ„˘ Jambalaya Summer Program, and the AACC Cultural Enrichment/Educational Directives After School Program.