Valetta Molofsky (middle left, with head wrap) poses with HC Black Music and Arts supporters and well-wishers inside the new Harambee Cultural Center. Photo: Submitted.


Ed. note. New column! The Outpost, in conjunction with the Ink People Center for Arts and Culture, is delighted to bring you Culture Player, an occasional feature that spotlights the work of local people doing cool, creative things for our collective soul. 

Over to your host, Gabrielle Gopinath!


Valetta Molofsky has a lot to celebrate this February. The organization she founded four and a half years ago, HC Black Music & Arts Association (HCBMAA), a DreamMaker Project of the Ink People Center for the Arts, is opening a new space. Youth and community volunteers have been working overtime for the past three months to turn a building on 16th Street in Arcata into a neighborhood youth center and organization headquarters, and HCBMAA is celebrating its opening during Black History Month with an open house party all day today.

On a recent February morning, the new space — called the Harambee Cultural Center — had a colorful, welcoming vibe. Soothing waterfall sounds fill the sunny front reception space. Green plants flourish next to African textiles. Low tables surrounded by colorful stools invite conversation. Wall art celebrates nature and the cosmos. An expansive mural represents a constellation of past and present leaders in the Black community. After waiting several years, Molofsky is excited to have room to enact the full spectrum of her programming vision.

“People have been coming in and asking, ‘what is this place?’”, Molofsky said. “We say, this is a healing restorative place. A place where you can refuel. That might mean spending time on our yoga mats. Or maybe you need to sweat it out and lift some weights. Maybe you need to manifest your beauty and look in that mirror and say, I am beautiful within and without. Maybe you want to come into the game room and shoot some pool with your friends. Maybe you need to use the computer lab and be around people while you do your homework. Maybe you want to take some time to journal and make art. Maybe you just want to sit on a beanbag, or cuddle up in our book nook. Whatever youth need, we have spaces to accommodate them.”

HCBMAA seeks to empower young people by connecting them with a sense of their history and their African roots. “In our childcare system, we provide services to youth ages five to thirteen, but we also work with emerging adults and adolescents,” Molofsky explained. The group is working to cultivate a safe, nurturing space for youth and families of color in Humboldt County, empowering youth through workshops, restorative circles, community outreach and Afrocentric cultural practices.

This new headquarters represents a major enhancement of HCBMAA’s capacity to serve the public. During the organization’s first years, Molofsky had to get creative in order to access space and resources, partnering with schools and with a fellow DreamMaker Project, Arising Community. The relationships that were developed during that time, she says, have been invaluable. “We were able to spend that quality time, building relationships in the community. Now, this is going to be our official center. This is the first time that we’ve actually set our feet — or what we call our souls — down on the ground and planted roots.”

HC Black Music & Arts Association came about through an organic process, inspired by founders’ perception that there was a need for cultural programming designed specifically for young people in Humboldt’s Black community. The group got its start in November of 2019 around a table in a Eureka Caribbean restaurant, Taste of Bim. “People of color had come together there,” Molofsky remembers. “No titles, no hierarchy: just people wanting to produce change for the community. As we sat there, we started to talk about giving youth access to cultural wealth and knowledge. And today, four and a half years later, we’re still doing that. We’re giving back to the community, letting the community take what they need.”

Getting the new space ready to serve the community has been a big lift for this small, grass-roots organization. Fortunately, HCBMAA has been able to rely on volunteer assistance. A big part of the group’s vision is empowering young people to take leadership and develop their own youth-centric programming. That commitment has been reflected in the design process.

Photo: Submitted.

“Much of this space was designed by members of our youth council,” Molofsky said. “The youth painted and patched the walls, figuring out what needed to be done. They came up with the colors. Young people came in and said, ‘This is what I have, these are my talents. Can I share this?’ They’ve done such a beautiful job.” Twenty volunteers also came in to help over a two-week period. “One person set up all our computers. We had volunteers who came from Cal Poly Humboldt who were setting up furniture. We had someone from Garberville, who’s from Nigeria, who drove all the way up here to build our shelves. The reception desk got built by a local person, who came in to do that on their day off. We had people from Belize who came in here and fixed the doors. We had someone who set up the kitchen. It was just amazing,” Molofsky recalled. “We were really hoping that people would put their vibrations into the space, and that the kids would feel the love.”

Having room to maneuver will make it possible for HCBMAA to continue and expand core programs like their annual production of holiday food baskets. “Our first year, we fed over 230 families. It was amazing to see what a need there is in the community. That’s meaningful for me personally, to know that we’ve been able to help people in that very fundamental way. Collaborators including Eureka Natural Foods, Wildberries and Winco stepped in and supported us where we needed help, so we were able to create these beautiful African baskets to give away. I see our beautiful baskets out there in the community, and I think how valuable it is that we are taking part in something good, feeding these families.”

Emphasis on developing self-worth through cultural awareness in HCBMAA programming derives from Molofsky’s perception that many young people in the regional Black community are under-resourced and under-valued. She designed the welcoming entry space, with its wall of lush green plants and a rippling waterfall, to promote a warm, supportive, tranquil atmosphere.

“My soul aligns with supporting these youth,” she said. “And my heart cries out when we lose youth from suicide. My soul cries out when I see students who take drugs. So the purpose of this space is to make it possible for young people to recover and to heal.”

High school-aged youth counselors are working with HCBMAA to make online wellness information resources accessible through scannable QR codes. Youth counselors also assist their peers directly, providing mentorship and companionship.

“They aren’t licensed, but they have lived the experience of being in high school. They can sit with these youths and say, ‘I’m here,’” Molofsky said. “We’re really putting power in the hands of young people to make this what they want it to be. When you’re speaking to someone who’s your own age, who’s grown up with the same things that you’ve grown up with, they can help on a different level than an older person can.”

The Harambee Cultural Center (725 16th Street, Arcata) is having a grand opening celebration today. A flyer — see below — promises “vendors, family activities and good company,” plus story telling, music, dancing and more.

To learn more about HC Black Music & Arts Association, email or connect on Facebook.


Gabrielle Gopinath is the grant writing and communications director for the Ink People Center for Arts and Culture.