Meet Jealous Ben | Sierra Club

Benjamin Todd “Ben” Jealous was named the Sierra Club’s seventh executive director in November 2022.

Photo by Christopher Jason Studios

Ben has held positions from organizer to investigative journalist to chairman of two of the nation’s most influential groups pursuing fairness and justice and protecting democracy and the environment.

Ben grew up spending his school years in Pacific Grove, California, a community he describes as full of oceanographers and nature photographers. Throughout his childhood, he spent summers with his grandparents in West Baltimore surrounded by elders who led civil rights activists locally and nationally. From his childhood, he linked the struggles for civil rights and the environment shaped by the militancy of his parents. He is the son of a white New England outdoorsman and a black mother who had to leave Maryland when she got married because interracial marriage was illegal in his home state. In 1988, Ben divided his free time between leading Youth for Jackson in his county and giving tours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

His family’s travels in the Sierras shaped his life’s environmentalism and commitment to courage. His environmental advocacy began when he co-founded the first high school chapter of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and helped organize its first protest – against the clear-cutting of timber. He helped launch SEAC’s People of Color Caucus, one of the first national environmental justice networks, and served as SEAC’s spokesperson in a national campaign against NAFTA.

From 2008 to 2013, Ben led the NAACP as the youngest president and CEO of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization with more than 2,400 chapters. He started the NAACP’s Climate Justice Program, which in 2012 released Coal Blooded: Putting Profits before People, a report assessing the impact of the nation’s 378 coal-fired power plants on people of color and low-income communities. . It was an extension of work Ben began in the 1990s as a reporter and editor of the black-owned community newspaper, the Jackson Advocate, exposing alarming “clusters of cancer” in rural Mississippi communities caused by industrial pollution. He also helped convince the Sierra Club and Greenpeace to join the fight for the right to vote, pointing out that the forces suppressing the vote were funded by the planet-destroying fossil fuel and paper industries.

Under his leadership, the NAACP experienced its first sustained membership growth in decades, its annual budget doubled, its online activist base quadrupled, and its donor lists increased eightfold.

One of the hallmarks of Ben’s work has been the deployment of technology to make organizing efforts more effective and to engage more grassroots activists. He deepened his understanding of technology in half a decade as a partner at Kapor Capital, one of the country’s leading ESG venture capital firms.

Ben joined the Sierra Club from People for the American Way (PFAW), where he served as 2020 President in the 2022 midterm elections. At PFAW, he co-led an advocacy and civil disobedience campaign by activists in the civil rights activists, women’s rights advocates and religious leaders to convince the Biden administration to play a more assertive role in overcoming a Senate obstruction of suffrage legislation (and was repeatedly arrested in the process) .

Ben is a graduate of Columbia University and earned a master’s degree from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He was the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland. He was named to Forbes and Time magazine’s “40 Under 40” lists. In 2013, the Baltimore Sun named him “Marylander of the Year” for his work on marriage equality, abolition of the death penalty, and passage of the DREAM Act. In 2009, he received the John Jay Award from the Columbia Alumni Association (although he was suspended from college for leading protests against financial aid cuts and ballroom conversion where Malcolm X was murdered in the research lab).

Ben has served on the boards of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Trust for Public Lands and the Wilderness Society.

He taught at Princeton University and currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Ben is a New York Times bestselling author. His next book Never Forget Our People Were Always Free: A Parable of American Healing will be released in January 2023.

Ben lives in a designated bird sanctuary in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland with his children, Morgan and Jack, and their dog, Charlie. He is descended from two black Reconstruction statesmen and at least seven Revolutionary War soldiers, including the youngest to have fought in the battles of Lexington and Concord.

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