Justin Cummings wants to be the first Black person on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors. A former Santa Cruz mayor and a member of the Santa Cruz City Council since 2018, he believes he has the experience, dynamism and personality to get the job done. He says he will bring needed diversity and scientific expertise to the role.
There has never been a Black person on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors.
Think about that.
There are also no renters, and there has never been an environmental scientist.
That has to change. We need diversity and voices that represent our community, the struggles of working people, and our world if we want to achieve equity and inclusiveness.
I am the one to do it.
In 2018, I was one of two Black men elected to the Santa Cruz City Council — the first time in history that Black men were on the council. In 2020, I became the first Black mayor in the history of Santa Cruz.
But I am more than just that.
I’m an environmental scientist, fluent Spanish speaker, educator, nonprofit developer, musician, kickboxer, and member of UAW Local 5810. Most important, I am an advocate; I fight to ensure underserved people are represented in local government.
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My passion for social, racial and environmental justice stems from my experiences growing up in a lower-middle-class family in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Chicago. Being raised primarily by a single mother, I learned to be resourceful and grateful for what I had. My mother, a nutritionist, taught me the importance of healthy eating and of food equity. She always wanted to make sure that families with little money had the resources to make healthy food choices. I inherited her passion.
My father, who was an attorney, taught me that life is not fair, particularly for young Black men, and to always fight against discrimination. In August 1966, my father marched with Martin Luther King in Chicago. That galvanized his involvement in the civil rights movement. He passed that legacy on to me and my brother, who is now a film editor in Los Angeles.
My parents also taught me to respect and care for the environment, to stand up for social justice, and fight for the rights of all people.
As a student at Eastern Illinois University, I helped lead an initiative that got our campus to serve 90% fair trade coffee. I also led a volunteer group down to New Orleans to provide relief at an AIDS shelter after Hurricane Katrina. I have a Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz in ecology, which makes me uniquely suited to work toward climate-friendly local initiatives.
During my four years on the city council, I have fought for affordable housing and pushed back against development that doesn’t fit the character of our neighborhoods or meet the needs of our workforce. I have supported policies to promote environmental protection and sustainability. I have fought for social justice. I have supported youth and families, especially those who are low income.
Among my opponents, I have the most experience in public office and in navigating crises.
As mayor of Santa Cruz in 2020, my term coincided with one of the most challenging years in our city’s recent history. We had a divisive recall election, the onset of COVID-19, social unrest after the murder of George Floyd, and the CZU fires. To overcome these challenges, I brought people together from different backgrounds to build consensus and overcome the challenges.
But there is still much to do.
We need to work to rebuild from the CZU fires, build more low-income and workforce housing, make informed land-use decisions to protect our environment, support programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion, promote programs to alleviate poverty, create environmentally sustainable forms of transportation, and combat the impacts of climate change.
I have the energy, dynamism and drive to get this done. I bring the perspective of a millennial, a group that often gets left out in Santa Cruz County.
But more than anything, I am approachable, open and ready to listen to you.
A few more things you should know. I like punk rock, skateboarding, heavy metal, hip-hop, and consider my friends family. I have a purple belt in Brazilian jiujitsu, I am a kickboxer, and the five-time Super Bowl hot chicken wing-eating champion of the Parish Publick House.
Santa Cruz, our weird, wonderful community, has always been edgy and eclectic.
I am the right leader for our times.
Justin Cummings is the co-founder and associate director of the UCSC CITRIS Initiative for Drone Education and Research. In 2015, he also helped create the UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program and served as program director from 2015-20. He has a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from UCSC. In 2018, he received the most votes in the election for Santa Cruz City Council and in 2020, he served as mayor. He has lived in Santa Cruz on and off since 2007. Find his campaign site here.