Many times after church, members of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church assembled in the parking lot, praying about the need for a community center for their Eastside neighborhoods. On Friday, they witnessed the groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of its construction.

The $3.2 million ZerNona Black Multi-Generational Cultural Community Center will total 10,000 square feet and will include two buildings, a landscaped courtyard, multipurpose rooms and classroom spaces, a catering kitchen, bathrooms and support spaces. Construction is expected to be completed by February 2023.

Black, who died in 2005, was an educator and activist and the wife of the Rev. Claude Black, a former City Council member, noted civil rights activist and the longtime pastor of Mt. Zion. ZerNona Black worked as an instructor at St. Philip’s College and advocated for citizenship education through classes on communication, drama, speech and radio.

The community center named for her is part of the 2017-2022 city bond program, which is funding $2 million of the construction costs. Bexar County chipped in another $500,000, according to project documents, and the church raised $1 million along with donating the land that was once a parking lot adjacent to the church.

“It literally began with nickels, dimes and dollars,” said Otis Mitchell, pastor of Mt. Zion for 16 years. “And that’s how it was done.”

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said the center itself will offer the services ZerNona Black championed, including a senior daycare center, preschool center, after-school programs and adult education classes.

“We now take comfort in knowing that future generations of San Antonio’s people will be able to learn of her namesake, the greatness of her husband and this church’s great legacy from the Baptist settlement to here,” said Calvert. 

Mitchell, after shoveling dirt on the land as construction is set to begin, said he’s almost speechless.

“I celebrate what faith in God can do. … It’s needed. It’ll make a difference,” he said. 

Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.