Jerome Ringo will officially take the helm of the National Wildlife Federation board this week, making him “the first-ever African-American to hold such a leadership position with any national conservation organization,” according to the group.  

Congrats to Ringo and kudos to NWF, but damn, what does it say about the green movement that we’re only just now marking this milestone? No wonder activists lament the lack of non-white faces in environmental circles.

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Ringo told Lester Graham of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium that times are changing: “We’re not where we want to be with respect to minority involvement in conservation, but I can guarantee you we’re not where we were. Years ago when I got into the environmental movement, there were very, very few minorities involved.”

As Graham explains it, Ringo “says he first got involved in environmental activism because he knew of chemical releases that were being emitted from a refinery, and some of those chemicals could cause health problems for the people who live nearby — most of them low-income African-Americans.”

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Ringo in his own words again: “We have to readjust our priorities from just quality of life issues like where next month’s rent is coming from, how do we feed our family. Environmental issues have to be within our top priorities because, as I tell the people in ‘Cancer Alley,’ Louisiana, what good is next month’s rent if you’re dying of cancer? So, we’ve got to be more involved in those quality of life issues and make environmental/conservation issues one of those key issues in our lives.”