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Carnaval San Francisco CEO realizing dream of providing housing, arts center in Mission District

Carnaval San Francisco CEO realizing dream of providing housing, arts center in Mission District
Carnaval San Francisco CEO realizing dream of providing housing, arts center in Mission District 03:10

Roberto Hernandez looks up at the building under construction on Florida Street, a dream nine years in the making.

"I get goosebumps and I get excited knowing that it's a dream come true," he said.

For Hernandez, this new Cultural Arts Healing Center is more than a home for the 44-year-old Carnaval San Francisco. Thinking about it brings back a sweet memory.

"I remember as a little boy, just watching my mom and dad dance the cha cha cha, I would just smile, not only in my face, but inside and it just made me feel happy," he smiled.

The new center is the latest project for the man known as the "Mayor of the Mission." It's only a few blocks from where he lived as a child when he cemented his lifelong calling.

"I just can't sit back and watch people deteriorate," he said.

When he was 12 years old, Roberto's father sent him to Delano.

"I thought we were poor. I realized we weren't poor," he said.

He met union leader Dolores Huerta, and saw firsthand how farm workers lived.

"At that time, they had no water, no bathroom, and then, living in sheds. Man, I came back and I just hugged my parents and said, 'Thank you,'" Hernandez recalled.

As an adult, he began to fight for his community, battling evictions, gentrification and poverty. Hurting neighbors bring him their pain, from losing jobs to losing loved ones to COVID.

He's asked, "How does this wear on your heart and how are you dealing with it?"

"It's hard. It's tough," he answered. "I pray every day. I meditate. I let go of that pain and ask the Creator to give me strength, hope and courage."

The new building offers a new source of hope and courage. Two years after breaking ground on city-owned land, 90 units of affordable housing are set to open this fall, followed by the cultural arts center in 2023.

It's designed as a safe space where healing can come through dancing or the beat of the conga drums.

"That beat connects to your heart, connects to your soul, your spirit, your mind, your body, you get transformed," Hernandez described.

A recent Cinco de Mayo fundraiser gave a glimpse of that healing power. Nearly 80 percent of the $3.6 million project is funded.

But the work is far from over.

"Whatever amount of time I got left, I just want to give back. "

Giving back to neighbors who've become like family.

For the 65-year-old Mayor of the Mission, he's still very much a man on a mission.

NOTE: People can apply for the 90 units of affordable housing apartments on 681 Florida Street that are expected to open this September. Contact Mission Economic Development Agency, or MEDA at (415) 209-5143 for a free appointment, especially for assistance in Spanish. Or, apply online via the City's DAHLIA portal at Deadline to apply is May 30 at 5 p.m.
Donations are also welcome for the construction of the Cultural Arts Healing Center:

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