Portrait by Devi Pride Photography.
Justin Cummings, PhD
I moved to Santa Cruz from Chicago in 2007 to pursue a PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology with a designated emphasis in environmental science from UC-Santa Cruz, which I received in 2013. My work has largely focused on invasive species eradication in places such as Panama and the Galapagos, sustainable fisheries science, tropical forest restoration, assessing the impacts of climate change on the environment, and diversity, equity, and inclusion in environmental conservation. After a brief post-doc in Miami, I returned to Santa Cruz in 2015 to co-found and direct the UC-Santa Cruz Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, whose mission is to prepare college students from diverse backgrounds to become the next generation of conservation leaders.
In Santa Cruz, I witnessed and experienced the impacts of the exorbitant housing market. I got involved in a rent control measure campaign and was one of the highest signature gatherers to place the measure on the 2018 ballot. This, along with a commitment to community engagement, prompted me to run for city council. In 2018, I was the highest vote recipient and became one of two African American men voted onto the Santa Cruz City Council for the first time in history. In 2020 I became the first African American man to serve as Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz.
During my time on the council, I have focused on sustainable community growth, increasing affordable housing, reducing carbon emissions, public safety reform, amplifying the voices of marginalized community members, connecting people to resources during the pandemic, and most importantly bringing our community together to make Santa Cruz better for everyone. My work now focuses on using drones to map ecosystems and track the impact of climate change over time, as well as developing education and research programs that help increase diversity and equity within the Santa Cruz County workforce, with an emphasis on emerging technology and conservation.