Friday morning, October 1, 2021, marked a victorious moment for San Diego civil rights activists who first envisioned the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) as a bustling epicenter for entertainment and public service in the heart of Southeastern San Diego.
California Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins announced today during a news conference, that a $35 million grant will be used to renovate the historic theatre inside the San Diego College of Continuing Education's (SDCCE’s) ECC.
“I started my tenure in the district by touring all of the colleges. As I walked through this building I discovered multiple rooms with trophies, awards, plaques, and resolutions from elected officials. It disheartened me to see that our history was not being recognized, celebrated, and treasured,” said San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) Chancellor Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D., who previously served six years as President of SDCCE. “The layers of this rich treasure are deeper than I ever imagined, we are sitting on civil rights history. This is hallowed ground.”
“We are both recognizing the history and reinvesting in the future, which is what is so important about today,” said Atkins during her welcoming remarks.
Forty-five years ago, ECC was one of southeastern San Diego’s only centers for education and arts. Civil Rights leader Coretta Scott King, award-winning artist and humanitarian Stevie Wonder, and Civil Rights activist and American poet Maya Angelou are some of the many influential social justice champions who have been part of the history at this campus.
Atkins along with California Senator Ben Hueso and Assembly Member Chris Ward presented a check to Dr. Cortez on behalf of SDCCE, the noncredit college within the district.
San Diego Councilmembers Sean Elo-Rivera and Monica Montgomery Steppe, SDCCD Board of Trustees President Maria Nieto Senour, Ph.D., SDCCE Interim President Kay Faulconer Boger, Ed.D., and Alyce Smith Cooper, a member of SDCCE’s Historic Preservation Committee were among the speakers.
“The iconic ECC theatre has been an invaluable asset in southeastern San Diego, at the intersection of arts and activism, we have reaped the benefits of change right here on this landmark civil rights campus,” said Councilmember Montgomery Steppe. “There is no disputing this is a community safe space known for being at the center of the cultural revolution in our community and being known to be woven in the fabric of civil rights advocacy.”
Today, ECC continues to honor its inaugural purpose, by welcoming the public every February for a Black History Month celebration displaying live music, dance, and spoken word symbolic of African American legacy. Students from SDCCE’s welding department design a float each year to echo Dr. King's dream for liberty and freedom. With support from the state grant, award-winning float entries will be memorialized around ECC.
In addition to the arts, SDCCE has provided free higher education and workforce training to adults in San Diego since 1914 — more than a 100-year heritage of opening doors into a world of possibilities for students who come from underrepresented ethnic and minority groups including immigrants, refugees, and for families seeking asylum.
“We still have adults in our community that have not received their high school diploma and what does that mean for them, that they have less of an opportunity to participate in this economy,” said Senator Hueso. “SDCCE is one of those institutions that can provide a pathway to high paying jobs. These locations help build the middle class, a pathway for people to support their families.”
Assemblymember Ward added, “These are the investments that have been long overdue for our community. This is about our future, the hundreds of thousands of community members who will be able to get a quality education, who will build skills, who will be able to be a more active part of our community, who will be given an opportunity.”
A planning committee will be formed and meet this fall to begin preserving and restoring ECC. Theatre renovations will include modern acoustic panels, sound and lighting controls, updated entries, foyer areas, and seating. Additionally, plans will update surrounding exterior patio areas, and a new community room that will welcome public use. The project is estimated to be completed in 2024.
“We are going to be honored to welcome students into this new facility knowing what it’s going to be able to provide for their futures,” said Ward.
SDCCD Chancellor Cortez is working with the City of San Diego and state officials to have ECC named as a Civil Rights Landmark Designation.