Robert Francis Kennedy Jr.

Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. — the son of former New York senator and U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy — is an attorney, environmental activist and syndicated talk radio host. He is a co-founder and President of Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental protection organization focused on the preservation and conservation of water resources. In addition to writing on environmental issues for numerous publications, he currently serves as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Early Life

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was born on January 17, 1954, in Washington, D.C., to Ethel Skakel Kennedy and former New York senator and U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy. One of 11 children born to Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy — a Democrat senator for New York and U.S. attorney general, who was assassinated in 1968 — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the nephew of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy and former U.S. senator Ted Kennedy. At a young age, he was taught to value a strong education and political activism.

After graduating from Millbrook Academy in Gloucestershire, England, Kennedy attended Harvard University and the London School of Ethics, receiving a bachelor’s degree in American history and literature in 1976. He went on to obtain doctorate and master’s degrees in law from the University of Virginia and Pace University, respectively. In 1983 he served as the assistant for district attorney of New York and that summer passed his bar examination after his second attempt. He was disbarred after he was discovered possessing heroine at a South Dakota airport. He was charged with a felony and pleaded guilty.

As part of his sentencing, he began doing community service for Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the Hudson River. He became so involved at the nonprofit that after he finished his 1500 hours of community service, he was hired as its chief attorney. (He was reinstated to practice law in 1985.)

Environmental Activism

In 1998, Kennedy co-founded a bottled water company, Tear of the Clouds LLC, with Chris Bartle and John Hoving. A year later he founded Waterkeeper Alliance, a global umbrella group which supports local environmental organizations protect their respective bodies of water. In 2004, he became a co-host—along with Mike Papantonio and Sam Seder—of Ring of Fire, a syndicated U.S. talk radio show that focuses on American politics.

In the mid-2000s, Kennedy’s work centered on advocating for renewable energy development and encouraging citizens to protect their local waterways. In May of 2010, he was named a “Hero for the Planet” by for his work with Riverkeeper, helping to restore the Hudson River. Kennedy’s environmental activism also includes writing two books and numerous articles on issues affecting the environment. He currently serves as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In 2016, he joined thousands of concerned citizens and Native Americans from numerous tribes at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He also denounced the use of militarized police against the peaceful protesters. “Today, we stand in solidarity with the people of Standing Rock and commend the Sioux Nation for taking on this courageous fight on behalf of our country, humanity, and democracy,” said Kennedy. “Across the nation, communities of color face environmental and public health threats most communities don’t have to think about. This historic peaceful protest declares that all communities deserve clean water.”

He also is chairman of the board of Children’s Health Defense. The mission of Children’s Health Defense is to end the epidemics of chronic illness in children by eliminating harmful toxic exposures, holding those responsible accountable, and establishing safeguards so that this never happens again. Children’s Health Defense engages in three broad program areas: scientific research, landmark litigation, and science-based education and communication.