‘Conversation vs. confrontation’: Parks & Beaches board hears from UCSD athletic director on racism

UC San Diego Athletic Director Earl Edwards
“I encourage all of you to use your sphere of influence to help combat racism in our society,” says UC San Diego Athletic Director Earl Edwards.

Led by the motto “conversation vs. confrontation,” UC San Diego Athletic Director and La Jolla Rotary Club member Earl Edwards is on a personal mission to talk about racism. He spoke at the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group’s online meeting Oct. 26, sharing his experience “as a Black man in America” and providing takeaways for how those in attendance can combat racism.

His talk had been scheduled before some board members made controversial comments during the group’s Sept. 28 meeting criticizing the city’s decision not to remove chalk art on La Jolla’s bike path that supported the Black Lives Matter movement, and the subsequent backlash at the Oct. 26 meeting, in which some in the community called for the removal of two members.

Following some controversial statements by two of its members about recent chalk writings on the Fay Avenue Bike Path in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — and the city’s decision not to remove them — the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group dedicated more than an hour of its Oct. 26 meeting to discussing how to proceed.

“I have taken on this personal mission of addressing racism and social injustice in our society,” Edwards said. “The foundation that provided me with the impetus to move forward in this direction, unfortunately, was the murder of George Floyd. As a Black man, to see a policeman with his knee on [Floyd’s] neck and hearing George call out for his mother and watching the other police stand around and do nothing, that’s when I said, ‘That’s it.’ … I have to use my sphere of influence to address this very important issue.”

As Tritons go Division I, Earl Edwards wants to use his platform to promote social change.

Speaking about his experiences, Edwards said he has a “real fear” of being around police and of the possibility that his children may be subject to police brutality.

“The UCSD students, particularly the students of color, have expressed to me the fear of coming into La Jolla, mostly because they are often stopped by police for no other reason than their color,” Edwards said. “As a Black man, in every neighborhood I have lived, which have been predominantly White, I have gone to every neighbor to introduce myself so they know I live in the area.”

Growing up, Edwards said, he was told he had to be twice as good at everything he did to get the same opportunity and that the best career opportunity would be as a mechanic.

Instead, he rose to UCSD athletic director, and under his leadership, the Tritons were elevated to Division I from Division II on July 1.

“There are very few Black athletic directors in the country, even though there are a lot of Black athletes,” he said.

Edwards also cited negative statistics about the Black experience in America, including that Black people have an increased likelihood of being given less pain medication in hospitals “because of a false belief of a high [pain] tolerance for Blacks” and that Black children are more likely than White children to be suspended or expelled from school for the same behavior.

But he also shared some positive contributions by Black people in society.

The traffic light, ironing board, automatic elevator door and mailbox were invented by Black people, he said. In the 1940s, “bloodmobiles” were founded by a Black man, Charles Richard Drew, who was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank.

Edwards suggested reading “Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race” by Derald Wing Sue and “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo.

“There are other things you can do to combat racism,” Edwards said. “First, racist jokes aren’t funny — don’t laugh. Stop saying you are color-blind or that you don’t see color. To say that is to say you don’t see me or you dismiss a very important part of who I am. Be careful when you use the issue of color when identifying individuals; it’s not uncommon when it’s a negative situation to identify the person as Black. I encourage all of you to use your sphere of influence to help combat racism in our society — it could be to friends, family, workplace or volunteer groups — and examine your own bias to see where it may have [originated].”

Other LJP&B news

Bike path cleanup: A community effort to clean up the Fay Avenue Bike Path saw 90 volunteers fill more than two trash bins on Oct. 24. Volunteer leader Debbie Adams said that going forward, “our concentration really needs to fall to the fire hazards, because we have very flammable grasses very near residential areas. We can cut the grasses … but they come right back.”

Volunteers remove weeds and debris from the Fay Avenue Bike Path on Oct. 24.

Coast Walk Trail: A fundraising hike on Oct. 22 organized by Friends of Coast Walk Trail and La Jolla’s five Rotary clubs raised $7,000 to repair an eroded slope alongside the trail. Hikers were encouraged to donate, take a walk along the trail and receive a gift bag.

Coast Walk Trail lies between Coast Walk (a short street west of Torrey Pines Road between Prospect Place and Amalfi Street) and Goldfish Point, including a walking path and bridge. For the past four years, Friends of Coast Walk Trail has worked with the city of San Diego to privately raise funds for and make repairs to the trail.

Pottery Canyon: In LJP&B’s ongoing effort to mitigate fire risks in Pottery Canyon despite city budget constraints and limitations on what types of vegetation can be removed, board member Claudia Baranowski said a working group met with a city natural resources manager and identified “immediate areas of concern.”

Baranowski said the city would look into whether it can remove non-native debris from the canyon floor and non-native eucalyptus limbs and acacia shrubs and re-vegetate the area with native plants.

“The city will return to us with three proposed restoration methods and the costs. So as far as construction costs, we may need to do some private fundraising,” Baranowski said.

Capital improvements letter: Each year, the city offers community groups the chance to produce a list of capital improvement projects they would like the city to carry out. LJP&B President Ann Dynes wrote a letter recommending two projects from the board’s draft list: a series of improvements to Scripps Park and the repaving of Neptune Place. The board voted to ratify the letter.

Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla, said the capital improvements list is typically for “big projects” such as the restroom facility currently being constructed at Scripps Park. He said some smaller projects would be passed on to the district’s next council representative to be funded in the next budget cycle. Bry ran for mayor instead of a second term on the council.

The next LJP&B meeting is at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7, online. The board will combine its November and December meetings to accommodate the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. For more information, visit ◆