It is with great excitement that I write to you, as President of the Sierra Club, to share the news that the Board of Directors just voted unanimously in support of Ben Jealous, an experienced civil rights leader, community organizer, and coalition builder to be our new Executive Director.
We’re thrilled to welcome Ben to our organization. Ben’s passion for the outdoors and commitment to fighting for the environment, and his work leading People for the American Way and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – two of the nation’s most influential groups pursuing equity and justice and protecting democracy – makes him uniquely qualified to lead the Sierra Club at these intersections as our journey continues to create a healthy and sustainable planet for all.
From early in Ben’s life, he’s spent his time in nature and communities devoted to activism, from growing up in a neighborhood of oceanographers in California to summers spent with his grandparents during the civil rights movement in West Baltimore. The first protest Ben organized at school was against timber clear cutting. He worked as a journalist exposing “cancer clusters” in rural parts of Mississippi and was the youngest person to serve as president and CEO of the NAACP, which launched its climate justice program under his leadership.
In Ben’s own words about fighting for our future and the collective action it will take:
“My parents raised me to understand that the American experiment is both ongoing and fragile. Every generation must work to make our nation more just, and every generation must be vigilant in protecting our democracy. I've dedicated my life to doing both. In this existential moment in history, when planetary preservation is a human rights issue, we all need to consider pivots in our lives. Too many leaders still think that we can only create a growing economy if we sacrifice people, the wild, and even the planet itself. This flawed 'either/or' mindset--with its roots deep in our nation’s history of colonialism--has led our planet to the brink. We now know better. We can both create more good jobs for communities that have suffered for too long and build a healthier, more sustainable future for everyone."
Ben is now joining the most influential grassroots environmental organization at a critical juncture. Ben’s history and the Sierra Club’s role in the movement are coming together at a time that calls for bold, leadership to make sure there are never environmental sacrifice zones or disposable people living in them. He will be the first person of color to lead the Sierra Club in its 130-year-old existence. This speaks to the meaningful moment we are in now, that more than ever, we must work with more and more communities who have been historically marginalized if we are to truly deliver on our mission to protect the planet for everyone.
There is so much to learn about Ben – who folks call a unifier, peacemaker, collaborator, and coalition builder – exactly what the Board of Directors decided the Sierra Club community needs right now. You can read about Ben on our website and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook until he officially joins the Sierra Club on January 23, 2023. He will be starting at another turning point in history to enact the once-in-a-lifetime climate, jobs, and justice investments of the Inflation Reduction Act. Exciting and critical work is immediately ahead of us with Ben by our side.
Please join me in welcoming Ben to the Sierra Club, and thank you for being part of this next chapter and the change we will make together.