Community Profile: Imperial Beach’s First African American Councilman Is Committed to Serving UCSD’s Black Student Population
Jun 28, 2015
By Latanya West – Contributing Writer
When Ed Spriggs first campaigned for Imperial Beach City Council back in 2010, his knuckles hurt from canvassing neighborhoods, knocking on door after door. His persistence, and a broad base of community support, won him a council seat as Imperial Beach’s first African American city councilman. Today, that same drive fuels his efforts to help UC San Diego’s students of color succeed against the odds.
Spriggs, who happens to be the only male African American city councilmember in all of San Diego County, notes, “African American students make up only 2% of the UCSD student population. Only a fourth of those are from San Diego.”
He would know. Spriggs recently retired after 13 years as UCSD’s Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. Ed oversaw all Student Affairs operations and finances and played a key role in developing the campus’ “lively downtown” central area. He’s also a proud UCSD alum, and one of the first African Americans from San Diego to attend the university.
Recently, UC San Diego’s News Center reported a 13.5% rise in African American applicants for Fall 2015. It’s encouraging news, but it only reveals part of the tale. The #8 ranked U.S. public university has had some challenges consistently enrolling as well as engaging African American students in programs that can prepare them for success after UCSD. For Ed, serving the unaddressed needs of the black UCSD community is an understandably high priority. He was the first in his family to earn a college degree.
Originally from Minneapolis, the Spriggs family relocated to California when Ed was five years old. The greater Logan Heights community was his home (he attended Chollas View, Gompers and Morse). Then in 1965 he enrolled in UCSD and later graduated in 1970 with a B.A. in Economics.
It was a heady time. The Black Power Movement was blossoming and Spriggs became the first President of the Black Student Union. He and other students (Angela Davis among them) marched and rallied for higher enrollment and comprehensive changes to better serve students of color and their communities.
Ed searched for positive solutions, organizing fellow students of color to return to Lincoln, San Diego, and Morse High Schools to encourage youth to take college entrance courses. Their efforts helped lead to the creation of what is today known as Thurgood Marshall College at UCSD. “I was truly blessed to have come of age during that time, and it stuck,” he said.
Spriggs is forever grateful to the alma mater that launched his professional career. He went on to earn his law degree from New York University after working in community economic development in the San Francisco Bay Area, and practiced law with a major D.C. firm. For over twenty years he held a string of high-ranking posts in the Foreign Service, serving mainly in Kenya, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Mentors changed the trajectory of Ed’s life and he readily returns the favor. He takes on several student mentees each year. Along with other black UCSD alumni, Spriggs reaches out to UCSD’s prospective students of color, calling to encourage them to attend the university, helping them with scholarships, and connecting them with campus resources once they arrive. When Ed talks about “catching them early,” gauging their needs, and keeping them on track to graduation, he gets a determined twinkle in his eyes.
You’d think his full schedule wouldn’t leave much time for golf, beach walks, or body surfing along Imperial Beach’s coastal waters with his wife Leah and any one of his four kids or seven grandkids. But leading a more balanced life is precisely why he moved to “one of the finest little communities you’re going to find anywhere,” as he calls it. Imperial Beach has been Spriggs’ home since 2001.
When asked about the role of race in his election and tenure as councilman, Ed says the issues have mattered most, both in his 2010 campaign and his recent November 2014 reelection. “People,” he says, “ are concerned about matters that affect their daily lives and want elected officials who address those issues. It’s not about race.” Public safety, environmental concerns, and responsible development head the list. He approaches city issues from a “strategic standpoint,” he says, “What are we trying to achieve? What is our goal here? Now, how do we get there?”
It’s a good bet he’ll devote that same determination that helped him carve out a piece of Imperial Beach history to making UCSD a welcoming place for African American students for years to come.