Svante Myrick has been named incoming president of the progressive advocacy organization People For the American Way and its educational affiliate, the organizations’ board chairs announced today. Myrick will succeed Ben Jealous, who has accepted a new position as executive director of the Sierra Club. Myrick will become president and CEO on January 1, 2023, and Jealous will work with him to ensure a smooth transition.
Myrick became nationally recognized as an innovative leader and advocate for transforming policing and public safety during his ten years as mayor of Ithaca, New York. He was elected the city’s first Black mayor and New York’s youngest mayor at age 24, having previously been elected to the city council while still an undergraduate at Cornell University. Myrick directed People For the American Way Foundation’s youth leadership programs before he became People For the American Way’s full-time executive director in January 2022.
“We thank Ben Jealous for his strategic thinking and leadership at People For the American Way, and wish him great success at the Sierra Club,” said People For the American Way board co-chair Lara Bergthold. ”People For the American Way is fortunate to have a gifted member of the People For family ready to take the helm. I believe we will flourish under Svante Myrick’s thoughtful and energetic leadership.”.
“Svante has the ability to inspire and motivate people, and he knows how to make change happen,” said Rev. Timothy McDonald. People For the American Way co-chair. “That is a combination our movement and our country need right now.”
Myrick takes the helm at a time when democracy and democratic values are threatened by intense polarization, a flood of misinformation, the normalization of political violence, and a rising tide of authoritarianism.
“Democracy needs participants as well as defenders,” said Cookie Parker, chair of People For the American Way Foundation. “From the time he was able to vote, Svante has been a champion for democracy as a local activist and elected official and national advocate and leader.”
“I believe in the American promise,” Myrick said. “I was born into homelessness and raised by a single mother. Thanks to supportive people and policies, I had the opportunity to attend Cornell University and serve a city I love. I am grateful and eager to lead People For the America Way’s work to defend truth, justice, and the American Way so that generations of others will have the same opportunities.”
People For the American Way founder Norman Lear said that Myrick gives him hope in hard times. “Nothing encourages me more than committed young people taking the torch and running with it,” Lear said. “And no one impresses me more than Svante Myrick. He makes me believe in the future.”
During his tenure at People For the American Way, Jealous led a major advocacy and civil disobedience campaign by voting rights activists and religious leaders to convince the Biden White House to take a more assertive role in overcoming a Senate filibuster of voting rights legislation. Under his leadership, People For the American Way adopted the transformation of public safety systems as an organizational priority. After the police killing of George Floyd, People For the American Way spent two years working with criminologists, public officials, law enforcement officers, and community activists to develop “All Safe,” a policy roadmap for making communities safer and policing more just and effective. People For is now working with mayors and other local officials across the country to implement All Safe policies.
“It has been a privilege to lead People For the American Way. Svante is a great leader. His talents will serve the organization well,” Jealous said.
Lear thanked Jealous for his service, saying, “Ben Jealous has become dear to me as a friend and colleague and I am happy that his talents will be put to use protecting our precious planet.”
Myrick has been awarded an Aspen Institute Fellowship, a Rabbi Beerman Peace and Justice Award, and the John. F Kennedy New Frontier Award. He was named to both the Forbes 30 under 30 list and the Fortune 40 under 40 lists. His leadership has been recognized by other progressive movement leaders:
George Soros, Philanthropist
I was pleased to learn that Svante Myrick has been named president and CEO of People For the American Way. I have followed his career with interest and have found him to be an creative and innovative leader. In particular, his approach to police reform and drug policy reform as Mayor was sensible and effective and should serve as a national model.
Lateefah Simon, President, Meadow Fund
Svante Myrick is both an advocate for and example of a new generation of progressive leaders who are advancing civil rights, racial justice, and criminal justice reform. I have been inspired by his leadership in the Young Elected Officials Network and look forward to working with him in his new role as president of People For the American Way.
Colin Greer, President, New World Foundation
Svante Myrick exemplifies the values and vision that motivate the New World Foundation’s work to build a democratic future. His commitment to equity and civic participation are grounded in his personal experience of overcoming hardship to become an effective elected leader at an exceptionally young age. As both a local leader and a national movement builder, he has advanced policy changes that reflect our responsibility toward one another and toward our collective future. Svante Myrick will help shape that future, and we will all be the better for it. I admire and trust his passion and leadership.
Mark Gearan, President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, former Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government
The Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics has long recognized Svante Myrick as an extraordinarily public-spirited young leader. In 2014, the Institute selected him for its New Frontier Award, which recognizes leaders based on their accomplishments and their embodiment of the forward-looking public idealism to which President Kennedy hoped young Americans would aspire. In the years since, Svante has proven himself to be an innovative and effective mayor as well as a national leader in developing policies to transform public safety. He is a role model for every American who aspires to make a lasting contribution to our society.
People for the American Way will be exceedingly well served with his keen mind, deep commitment to progressive values and accomplished record of getting things done.