A group of ‘Afro’ activists seek funding to build their own cultural center

Afro conscience moves residence, but refuses to disappear. Until now, the largest cultural group of Africans and Afro-descendants in Spain was housed in the Matadero de Madrid, but its program has expired and now they need to prepare a new enclosure. The place they have chosen is located near the previous one, in the Embajadores neighborhood, but it is unfinished. To achieve this they have launched a campaign of crowdfunding on the Drip platform ending within 10 days.

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Since 2016 Afro Conscience has promoted in Matadero more than a dozen projects, including a legal aid service, a magazine, a festival or an educational project. After five years they are ready to emancipate themselves and build their own space: “That is why we have proposed to open a cultural center that promotes the creation and dissemination of African and Afro-descendant cultures in Madrid and that becomes a point of reference in our society “, they explain in the campaign.

By moving, in addition to ensuring their survival, they make sure that no change of government affects them. It already happened in 2019, with the arrival of the PP to the Madrid City Council. “We have felt a constant fear that they could go directly for our project because it does not fall within their artistic framework and the role they have in mind for migrants and racialized people,” acknowledges Yeison G. López, one of the founding members of Conciencia Afro. However, the university professor Esther Mayoko points out that they would not have gotten that far without Matadero and that the group’s new stage has nothing to do with “giving up public support.”

Criticism crosses the raison d’être of the collective, both social and institutional. That is why “independence is always a plus”. The design of the new cultural center is in charge of Husos Architecs, a Colombian study specialized in collective places, urban planning and gardening. “In this space we would become actors of the Madrid cultural fabric,” Gómez confides. The necessary budget is 30,000 euros and for now they have reached a third of the total.

“Afro people are very aware that resources are limited, in all senses. And we are not the ones who live looser either. That is why we are going to optimize them as much as possible,” says Mayoko. Because the fund is not going to be destined only to the premises, but also to expand and improve its services.

During these years they have created the annual AfroConciencia festival; a place to organize debates, movie forums, or self-defense classes; the magazine Negrxs; an Afro-feminist space; free legal advice and a library specializing in anti-racist books. The most ambitious novelty is the creation of a psychological consultancy: “Beyond dealing with the consequences of COVID, social distancing and disease, it will be linked to how hate speech affects us, because many of us say we feel more insecure than years ago, “says Gómez.

Culture against the escalation of hatred

Parallel to the milestones created in Conciencia Afro, racist and xenophobic discourse has infiltrated the country’s institutions. “There is a legitimation that protects these speeches without there being a social or institutional reproach,” laments Yeison. “The reality of 2021 has little to do with what was in 2016, when we started. But those of us who are already a certain age, we remember other times when hatred was already part of our day to day,” says Esther Mayoko.

“Afro Conscience and in general many other platforms are launching initiatives at the state level, because the need is not born unfortunately from what happened with George Floyd”, warns the teacher. Both she and her colleague, a political scientist by training, miss the involvement of racialized people in areas such as diplomacy, culture, health or education.

“As a teacher, these spaces allow me to carry out an exchange between communities like ours, which have historically been far from the university, and society. It is not enough that we are the object of study, it also has to be enriched by our experience,” says Mayoko . And, together with Gómez, he seeks to promote this “empowerment” from the cultural center: “Young people see that there are a series of spaces that are denied to them and that generates barriers at a psychological level that we have to break”.

The new African and Afro-descendant generations want to counteract their underrepresentation in a society where “racism is structural”. “Only together and in community are we going to be able to face it; and an Afro cultural space is always the best medicine”, defends Esther Mayoko. “We want people to feel it as a home, as a refuge, as a home. But also as a place that provides useful services,” says Gómez. Both hope to inaugurate soon a space where everyone is welcome: “It is not exclusive, it is a gift for society.”


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