In 1988, the course of Max Viltz’s life was profoundly affected by a trip to Egypt, led by an Egyptologist, Dr. Josef Ben-Jochannan, from Cornell University. The doctor led groups of African-Americans to Egypt to give a better understanding of African history in that country.
Viltz said she was impressed by “the realization of the positive impact Black Africans had in that country. It stood in great contrast to the impressions most people in the West have due to negative media images.”
Once back home, Max and co-founder Femi Viltz started the African Study Group in Long Beach, “to share the missing pages of this African history. To learn that we had this great culture and history of empires with kings and queens was amazing.”
Viltz made numerous trips to different parts of Africa, learning more and collecting artifacts along the way. This led to a life-changing leap of faith. She left a rewarding, stable, 25-year job with Boeing to open her own business — Village Treasures, a gift shop, boutique and gallery.
She said she named it in reference to the phrase “It takes a Village.” In part, it was reminiscent of her close knit neighborhood growing up, but also in honor of the many villages she visited while collecting the unique items of her inventory. The boutique is a treasure trove of beautiful representative arts of Max’s extensive trips throughout the region. It encompasses everything from artifacts, clothing, art items, to jewelry. It was established in 1997 in Long Beach, and currently is located at 247 Broadway.
Of Viltz’s many accomplishments and the recognition of her contributions to society, there is one project underway that has captured her heart as no other. She lights up with enthusiasm for the African American Cultural Center in Long Beach, which is well into the planning stage.
Two years ago, during Black History month, City Council members Dee Andrews, Al Austin and Rex Richardson presented a conceptual proposal for an African American Cultural Center to the Council. The motion for the study passed unanimously. Viltz and Erroll Parker were appointed to be the co-chairs of the visioning process.
She said it is the most fulfilling of her recent undertakings.
“Our story, local and throughout the diaspora, will finally be given its proper recognition and exposure to Long Beach,” she said. “At this time in history, with an awakening of others outside of the Black community of social injustice and systemic racism, it further speaks to the need of an African Cultural Center that can educate as well as entertain. We believe by exposing our young people and others to our local history and our glorious African past, it will provide a better sense of pride and a more positive perspective of African and African American people.”
A consulting firm established goals from a study that included the results of round table discussions and individual interviews led by the Advisory Committee. A board of directors has been formed under the leadership of President Felton Williams and Vice President Tasha Hunter. Viltz is secretary of the board.
The core will be a special emphasis on the performing arts, such as educational classes on the cultural history of the African drum, dance and arts. Another feature will be an exhibit of individual pioneers in the arts, education, entertainment industry and political influence.
There will be classes on the Black culture, and historical exhibits of the pioneers in the Long Beach Unified School District, Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College. Plans include school children tours, book signing and family events on special occasions, such as Kwanzaa and Juneteenth.
The Covid epidemic has delayed progress on the cultural center slightly, but the committee is making forward steps, Viltz said. They have the committee in place; the professional planning has been completed with goals established; they have the necessary 501 (c)(3) tax status for fundraising; and they have city approval. The next step is fundraising for a building and programming.
Viltz comes to this project with considerable experience and expertise. She’s served on many boards and received significant awards.
“Lots of things I do relate to the arts and to funding for the arts,” she said. “For example, I’ve been on the task force with International City Theatre to bring young people together and give theatre experience.”
The Heritage Award was her most recent honor, presented by the Aquarium of the Pacific. Her contributions to the community include providing training and mentoring for youth through the Pacific Gateway Program. She currently serves as vice chair of the St. Mary Medical Center Board of Ambassadors and is a board member of the Historical Society of Long Beach.
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