Monterey County native and former president and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous was named president of the People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation in Washington, D.C., the boards of directors for both nonprofits announced on June 2. He is the first African American to lead the 39-year-old organization.
One of the main goals of the PFAW is to fight right-wing extremism and promote justice for the disenfranchised, fitting themes during a week of massive protests across the country in the wake of numerous killings of African Americans by police and others, and the rise of right-wing hate groups in the U.S.
“I am thrilled to be joining PFAW at this critical moment, when the people of our nation urgently need change,” Jealous said in a press release. “We are facing critical elections this fall. The pandemic has highlighted the necessity of finishing the work of MLK, Barbara Jordan (a PFAW founder, along with TV producer Norman Lear) and FDR. And the rising generation in America has made clear that we must finally and fully reform the relationship between police and our communities.”
Jealous grew up in Pacific Grove, the son of Fred Jealous, a white man, and Ann Todd Jealous, a black woman. He shared with the Weekly in 2013 what it was like to grow up on the Peninsula in the 1970s and 80s as a biracial child.
“There was a lot of life in Monterey County spread out amongst a group of activists that was wonderful and inclusive. But race was always present,” he said. He was bused to schools outside of P.G. and remembers times like when he got into a fight with another child who assumed his mother was a nanny.
Jealous was named president and CEO of the NAACP in 2008 at age 35, the youngest person to lead the organization. According to PFAW's press release, Jealous brings “decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder and campaigner for social justice, and the ability to combine the heart and soul of an organizer with the change-making skills of a seasoned nonprofit executive.”
During his five years with the NAACP, he grew that organization’s budget and donor base and positioned it at the forefront of social justice issues including the Trayvon Martin case, voter ID laws and New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk policies.
He also pushed the more than 100-year-old group to fight more aggressively for marriage equality. In addition, he led voter registration efforts and worked to help pass the Affordable Care Act during President Barack Obama’s first term.
Jealous was the Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland in 2018, losing to Republican incumbent Larry Hogan, 43 to 55 percent. He recently served as a partner at Kapor Capital, an Oakland-based investment group that invests in tech businesses run by women and underrepresented people of color.