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2008 News Releases

Environmental advocate to speak at Longwood’s Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium

December 17, 2008

Jerome Ringo

Jerome Ringo, a conservationist who is a national leader in environmental justice and clean energy issues, will be the speaker for Longwood University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance and immediate past chairman of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), will speak Thursday, Jan. 22, at 3:30 p.m. in Jarman Auditorium. His appearance is part of Longwood’s annual celebration of Dr. King’s birthday and also the university’s recent focus on environmental sustainability.

Ringo has been called "the most interesting environmental leader in the United States right now" by The Nation magazine. He has since December 2005 been president of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental, business and community leaders working to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, cut carbon emissions and expand opportunities for American businesses and workers.

Also in 2005, Ringo began a two-year term as president of the NWF, becoming the first African-American to head a major conservation organization. He was a delegate to the Global Warming Treaty negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, in 1998, represented the NWF (on whose board he has served since 1996) at the United Nations’ conference on sustainable development in 1999, and was the McCluskey Fellow for Conservation at Yale University during the spring of 2007.

A native and current resident of Lake Charles, La., Ringo worked in the petrochemical industry in his native state for 22 years, more than half of that time as a union leader, before accepting early retirement in 1994. Louisiana’s petrochemical industry focuses on the production of gasoline, rocket fuel and plastics, many of which contain cancer-causing chemicals. Ringo began his environmental activism in 1991, joining an affiliate of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, after seeing the health-related effects of pollution from refineries among nearby residents, primarily members of poor minority communities.

"Every day I’d have to drive through these communities to get to my job," he said in a 2005 magazine article. "So I came to learn that the companies I was working for were contributing to environmental problems. This is not to say that all the industries were terrible environmentalists or did not care about the environment, but the reality is that industry discharges chemicals. And so I felt the need to help educate people within those communities how to work the process to try to stop the discharge of chemicals – not to shut the plants down – but to lobby the state legislature on environmental laws and show up at public hearings and to speak up as a community and express their fears and concerns."

Ringo is an avid hunter and angler. His earliest memories are of his grandfather taking him fishing in Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana, where he grew up.

In another event related to the MLK Symposium, there will be a community reading of Dr. King’s famous "Drum Major Instinct" speech Jan. 22 at 12:15 p.m. on the steps in front of Lankford Hall. In that speech, given Feb. 4, 1968 – two months to the day before he was assassinated – Dr. King asked that he be remembered not for his accolades but for his service to others. Those who wish to volunteer are asked to contact Naomi Johnson at 395-2230 or johnsonnr@longwood.edu.

Also, the MLK Service Challenge, in which Longwood students, faculty and staff volunteer for a one-day service project with a local agency, will be Monday, Jan. 19, from 9 a.m. to around 3 p.m. People can register beginning Nov. 3 during lunch in the dining hall, or on a sign-up sheet outside the door to Lankford 218, or online at www.longwood.edu/volunteer/MLK.htm, which provides more information about the event. Only the first 100 to register will be able to participate. There will be about eight to 10 projects this year. 

"We hope people will see this holiday as a ‘day on’ and not a day off," said Jen Rentschler, Longwood’s assistant director of volunteer & service-learning. "We want to challenge faculty, staff and students to celebrate by remembering Dr. King’s words and giving back to their community."

The Greenwood Library has put together an interactive guide about the MLK Symposium speaker and theme. To see more information or to comment about Jerome Ringo, environmental justice, or the Drum Major Instinct speech, go to http://libguides.longwood.edu/mlk.