As the Sierra Club reckons with its past, a new leader charts a more inclusive future
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For many American environmental advocates, acknowledging the exclusionary past of the movement is key to making progress now. One man knows this intimately.
Who is he? Ben Jealous is the new executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental organization that "fights for environmental and social justice." But he's no stranger to the world of civil rights and social advocacy.
Listen to NPR's interview with Ben Jealous by tapping the play button above
What's the big deal? Though the Sierra Club is known for leading the way in environmental advocacy and protection in the United States, it has also received heavy criticism for a history built upon ideas of white supremacy and racism.
Meet @BenJealous, Sierra Club’s incoming Executive Director!— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) November 16, 2022
Ben, Former NAACP President, Coalition Builder & Community Organizer, is uniquely qualified to lead the Sierra Club at these intersections as our journey continues to create a healthy and sustainable planet for all. pic.twitter.com/340fbYZ3vO
What's he saying?
In an interview with NPR, Jealous outlined how things have changed:
[When discussing historical movements] like the women's rights movement, and the gay rights movement, all of them have histories of being racially exclusionary. For the Sierra Club right now, the reality is that the urgency of the work on the ground has required people to really shift, I'd say, in many ways, from Hurricane Katrina forward. I think that's probably a pretty good line for the movement to try to figure out how to work across all lines of division.
And he outlined how the Sierra Club can move beyond its complicated past:
The priority is to move forward. I come into this role as a Black guy who started [at] a major environmentalist group when I was 21 years old. There was one Black executive at the time. And then on my first day, they felt obligated to put me in their office and say, "How does it feel to work for a white organization, and know that's not going to change soon?"
I've served on the board of multiple environmentalist groups. There's none more diverse, more inclusive, than the Sierra Club. Our reckoning that happened, the debate that happened is, frankly, evidence of a very healthy, dynamic group that is doing the real work of becoming ever more inclusive.
So, what now?
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