2020 Hellman Fellow
Assistant Professor; Sociology
UC Santa Cruz
Project Title: A Black Santa Cruz Sense of Place
Project Description: Self-identified Black folk make up less than two percent of Santa Cruz County’s population, and nuanced, multifaceted representations of Black people here continue to remain exceedingly scarce. In addition, because of its relatively small size, the local Black community is frequently overlooked as inconsequential to the sociopolitical fabric of Santa Cruz. Even with regard to matters of Blackness and racial justice, the question of Santa Cruz’s famed “liberalism” is up for debate—in 2019, for instance, a local style magazine came under fire for publishing not one, but two photos of a Ku Klux Klan member dressed in white robes at a payphone near the Boardwalk as a symbol of the city’s trademark “quirkiness.” Nonetheless, the history and geography of Santa Cruz and the wider Monterey Bay Area is profoundly intertwined with that of the Black Diaspora—from formerly enslaved London Nelson’s (namesake of the city’s community center) bequeathment of his estate to the struggling Santa Cruz School District upon his death in 1860; to the frequent presence of investigative journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells on River Street in the 1890s; to the touring circuits of Jamaican musicians that established Santa Cruz as a reggae hub during the late twentieth century. “A Black Santa Cruz Sense of Place” is a multi-year, community-engaged research project about the lived geographies of Black women in Santa Cruz. Through archival research, interviews, mapping, and performance art, “A Black Santa Cruz Sense of Place” will craft new narratives about Blackness in Santa Cruz, asking what happens to our visions and stories of the iconic “Surf City” when we begin from the enduring, yet oft-overlooked, experiences and struggles of its Black residents.