To celebrate Black History Month, we asked a few Black community leaders in Santa Cruz County to share what Black Health Matters means to them to bring the Black Health Initiative conversation to the table.
Meet Justin Cummings.
Justin has been a part of the Santa Cruz County community for about 13 years now.
He has spent his last few years working for the City of Santa Cruz as the Vice Mayor, Mayor, and City Councilmember.
As a Councilmember in the community, Justin has aimed to make Santa Cruz a place for not just some, but for everyone. Taking on issues like the county’s on-going housing crisis, its growing homeless population with public safety concerns, and evolving environmental sustainability practices.
He is a supporter of global conservation efforts and stewarding the next generation of environmental leaders, as well as making Santa Cruz an environmentally sound place for all to thrive.
Not only was Justin the first Black mayor to be elected into office in Santa Cruz, but also the first to be elected into a year with a racial revolution, a pandemic along with its residual effects, and the fires that broke out in the Northern part of the county.
Out of the many progressions made in a year unlike any other, Justin declared the first Black Lives Matter month in Santa Cruz, July of 2020.
Question - Please share what Black Health Matters means to you?
Justin - “It is important that in a society where black people have been marginalized and as a result have been disproportionately negatively impacted by environmental pollution, which has led to poor health and shorter life expectancies when compared to white communities, that we do what we must to ensure that Black Communities have access to sustainable well-paying employment, health care, and clean environments”.
Question - How has the pandemic and racial revolution impacted our local Black community?
Justin- “It has helped to bring the voices of the black community to the forefront in a way that I have not seen previously as a resident of Santa Cruz. There are many groups led by black people being organized and I see many more black people getting involved politically, which is good because we need diverse representation in our decision-making processes”.
Question - What are a few actions that can be done to ensure an equitable and inclusive Santa Cruz County for the Black community?
Justin- “It is important that the black community stay connected, engaged, and involved. It is also important to build healthy productive relationships with people in the non-black community because we cannot do this on our own and ultimately we want a community, world, and nation that is inclusive of everyone. It is also critical that we look at the issues facing our community and work to develop solutions that will work for where we are. Too often we look at the problems in other communities and project those problems on our community when they don't exist. We must stay focused and maintain our integrity when working to make our community more inclusive and safe for black people”.
Our community was fortunate enough to have Justin as the City Mayor of Santa Cruz but, United Way is equally fortunate to witness his selfless, community-centric mindset at work. Justin, thank you for your commitment to make Santa Cruz an environmentally safe and inclusive place for all.