2007 Commencement Speaker - Jerome Ringo

Jerome Ringo Is the Keynote Speaker for Commencement 2007


Jerome Ringo recently completed his two-year term as chairman of the board of the National Wildlife Federation, a historic tenure that began in April 2005 with his becoming the first African-American to lead the board of any major conservation organization. During his time at as chairman, Ringo was named “the most interesting environmental leader in the United States” by The Nation magazine, and was among Ebony magazine’s “most influential African-Americans.”

He is a leading conservation spokesman on a variety of issues, including global warming, the need for national water policies and projects to serve the public interest, the importance of restoring degraded wetlands of coastal Louisiana and other habitats, and the desirability of keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge free from oil development. In December 2005, he was named president of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition comprising business, labor, faith and conservation groups, as well as farmers and others united to forge a new energy future that will both create jobs and reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil.

In 1998, Ringo was the sole African-American delegate at the Global Warming Treaty negotiations in Kyoto, Japan.

Ringo’s connection to the natural world goes back to his boyhood in Louisiana’s bayou country, where he fished, crabbed, and hunted for duck, goose, and deer. His roles as a hunter, a fisherman, and a conservationist from an area where many people secure at least some of their food by hunting and fishing make him a particularly powerful advocate for environmental sustainability.

He is a dedicated teacher who is committed to sharing information, a lifelong pursuit that began when he was 16 and served as one of the first-ever African-American staff members at the world's largest scouting ranch, Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. Teaching younger scouts and helping them connect to the natural world furthered his appreciation and respect for nature, as well as his understanding of the need to protect the nation’s precious natural resources for future generations.

Today, he maintains a deep connection to Louisiana and the people who live there. He and his wife, Mary, volunteered to assist evacuees from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, and were themselves evacuated along with their four children from their home on Lake Charles, Louisiana, when Hurricane Rita swept through the Gulf several weeks later.

Ringo spent 20 years working in Louisiana’s petrochemical industry, during which he observed the disproportionate amount of cancer and other toxics-related health problems experienced by people living near industry plants and refineries. He joined fellow union members in fighting to secure a safe work environment and quality jobs, and he has long fought to empower those whose lives are negatively affected by the petroleum industry. He founded Progressive Resources Inc. to provide those communities with the expert technical assistance, legal counsel, and scientific advisors that would empower them in securing their rights and improving their quality of life.

In a recent interview with Mother Jones magazine, Ringo described climate change as “the single greatest issue for me as an environmentalist,” adding, “Its going to require a global effort to reduce greenhouse gases and hopefully derail some of the adverse impacts that we are experiencing today and the devastating impacts that we are going to experience in the future as a result of global warming.”