The UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies recently received a very tangible endorsement of its standing as California’s leading research center dedicated to the study of Black life: $5 million in funding from the 2021–22 California state budget.

It’s the largest amount of support the center has received in a single year from the state, said Kelly Lytle Hernandez, the center’s director and a UCLA professor of history. The funds will support a range of initiatives, including stipends for student research, the Black Policy Project and Million Dollar Hoods, an ongoing study of incarceration in Los Angeles.

Some of the funding will be directed to the Bunche Fellows Program, which provides stipends for students to work with leading faculty whose research has a vested interest in improving Black lives. One of the fellowship program’s newest faculty mentors is anthropology professor Justin Dunnavant, co-founder of the Society of Black Archeologists. Dunnavant, who joined the UCLA faculty in July, studies evidence of Danish slavery in the Virgin Islands through archaeological expeditions both on land and in ocean waters.

► Justin Dunnavant: Under sea and on land, archaeologist is creating a more just future

Among the center’s other new affiliated faculty members for 2021–22 is Michael Stoll, a professor of public policy and urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Stoll is the new director of the Black Policy Project, which is housed at the center.

Stoll’s goals for the project include commissioning a report to examine the demographic changes of Black California; generating research on wealth inequity in the state; and supporting California’s new task force on reparations, the first of its kind in the country. Each of those efforts, he said, will involve UCLA students, and each will produce materials meant to be accessible and useful for policymakers and the public at large.

“We want to be a good public ally and create accessible research for the layperson —information that engages in affairs that are of interest to and about Black California,” Stoll said.

Stoll also plans to build on a study he launched nearly 20 years ago: a broad analysis of the state of Black California. He intends to incorporate a new “equality index” that will help illustrate Black residents’ socioeconomic progress, considering several different measures, over the past two decades.

And he foresees events and panel discussions that would bring together members of the campus and Los Angeles communities with elected officials and other California decision-makers.

Funds from the California budget also will support the Bunche Center’s signature big-data project, Million Dollar Hoods, which tracks, neighborhood by neighborhood, how much Los Angeles law enforcement spends to lock up its residents. Million Dollar Hoods, in partnership with the UCLA Institute of American Cultures, recently launched a multiyear spinoff project called Archiving the Age of Mass Incarceration. In January, that effort received a $3.65 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Bunche Center staff have also played an integral role in administering programs outlined in UCLA’s Rising to the Challenge initiative, which was announced by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block in 2020. Staff members have developed infrastructure to support faculty hiring, seed grants, graduate student fellowships and postdoctoral scholarships for scholars whose research serves the study of Black life.