- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - Hattiesburg resident Nkrumah Frazier is a perfect example of what one can accomplish while following a passion.

In Frazier’s case, his love of nature, wildlife and community has led to not only a career in that field, but work with environmental organizations at home and around the country as well.

The seeds of that passion were planted when he was a child, growing up on a family farm outside Soso in Jones County.

“I’ve always been an environmentalist,” said Frazier, 37, who now serves as sustainability officer for Hattiesburg. “Because of my childhood, I’ve always been interested in being outdoors and working with animals and just caring for the land.”

That passion led Frazier to the Hattiesburg Zoo in 2005, where he worked as an animal keeper for about five years and as a manager for a year. While he was at the zoo, he was also working on a bachelor’s degree in biology - with an emphasis in environmental biology - which he obtained from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2009.

In January 2015, Frazier became the city’s new sustainability officer and was tasked with managing the city’s curbside recycling program. In his daily duties, Frazier subscribes to the “three-legged stool” plan of sustainability: financial, environmental and social health of the community.

“So sustainability is a large area, but I’m currently looking for projects and areas to expand to try to help the city in different ways,” he said. “I’d like to start a network of community gardens throughout the city, or help the city partner with some residents or organizations throughout the city to do that.

“It wouldn’t be feasible for the city itself to operate these community gardens - it would just require too much work. But if there are residents that would be interested in doing so, or maybe a neighborhood association, maybe we could go that route.”

It’s that kind of forward thinking that makes Frazier a perfect fit for his job, Public Works Director Larry Barnes said.

“We’re fortunate to have him,” Barnes said. “He’s only been with us (since last year), but his passion for wanting to improve our recycling program, and educating and informing people about how important it is to save our landfills and recycle for the future of our kids, it really hits home - not only with me, but with the citizens of Hattiesburg.

“So I think overall, the job that he’s doing right now has been very pleasing for me, and I hope the citizens of Hattiesburg see a difference in terms of recycling and being sustainable.”

Frazier’s involvement with nature certainly doesn’t end at his office. He also works part time with Wild South, a nonprofit organization with offices in Alabama and North Carolina dedicated to protecting public lands, preserving cultural heritage and defending wildlife.

In his role with the organization, Frazier helps to lead conservation efforts in national forests, predominantly in wilderness areas.

“So I work in the Black Creek wilderness area mostly,” he said. “I’m in the process of building a volunteer program to help with those efforts - working in the national forests.”

In 2012, Frazier started a Family Nature Club with the goal of holding outings such as hiking and picnics to inspire families - especially those with young children - to venture outside and make time for play.

“It’s to allow the kids to have time to just be kids,” he said. “I think in this day and age, our society tends to be overly scheduled, and we kind of rush kids from activity to activity. Very seldom do they get time to just hang out outside and play, as I did as a kid.”

Frazier also works with the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club, a nationwide organization that promotes exploring, enjoying and protecting the planet. Frazier is on the leadership team of the club’s Our Wild America, which aims to protect wildlands from mining, drilling and climate disruption.

One might think that those endeavors might be enough for a lifetime, but Frazier isn’t one to pass up an opportunity. He’s been working with Hikes Across America since 2015, and is currently working to start a national campaign with the hope of encouraging people across the country to go hiking and reconnect with nature.

“I feel like with the way things are going, people are kind of disconnected from nature, which in turns means a lot of times they’re disconnected where their food comes from and whatnot,” Frazier said. “But I feel like if we can get people to go back outside and enjoy nature, and enjoy the natural resources that we have, then more people will want to protect and conserve those natural resources for future generations.”

Frazier doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon, as he’s already planned a five-day hike for early next year in Pennsylvania in partnership with Gear Forward. As part of that hike, members hope to raise outdoor awareness, as well as procure camping and hiking donations to help children get outdoors.

“I think it (is natural for him), I really do,” Barnes said. “He goes above and beyond because he has a passion for it. And in this type of position - being a public servant - that’s one of the things that I stress all the time. You have to have a passion for being a servant for the citizens of this great city, so we’re fortunate to have him.”

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, https://www.hattiesburgamerican.com


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