What A Leader Looks Like: Nkrumah Frazier is the Children and Nature Movement. So are you.

My name is Nkrumah Frazier. I’m a 33-year-old husband and father. My love of the outdoors began when I was a young boy growing up on a small farm in rural south Mississippi, which spanned only about 100 acres.

My family owned cows and many dogs and we cultivated several gardens. My father taught my brother and me that if we cared for and loved the land it would care for us. He taught us how to hunt and fish. My father didn’t believe in hunting or fishing for sport; we took only enough for our own needs. My childhood summers were spent roaming the fields and forests. We had many friends and relatives our age to play with. We made forts, castles, ships, space ships or anything else that our imagination could dream up.

It was during this free play without the intervention of adults that I learned a lot about myself, my physical abilities and my abilities to affect those around me.

When children play in the absence of an adult to supervise all activities they are forced to learn the social skills needed to get along with their peers. Without this critical period of unsupervised free play and time alone in the natural world I doubt that I would be the person that I am today.

As a young boy I always knew that I would be a scientist or work with animals.  Throughout my short professional career I have had the privilege to do both.  I have worked in an environmental laboratory in which I spent eight hours a day performing scientific tests to determine whether runoff water, or effluent, was critically toxic to fish and invertebrates.  For five years I worked at the Hattiesburg Zoo as an animal keeper.

Growing up on a farm raising cows and having pets I have always been aware of the joys that animals can bring to a person’s life. But like many farmers (not all) I viewed the cows and pets merely as possessions and not as companions. It was through working at the zoo that I expanded my mind to see animals as true companions. I learned that animals and humans can have a closer bond than I ever thought possible.

One of the most stressful challenges for me while working at the Hattiesburg Zoo was managing its population of lemurs.  We had five species of lemur with several lemurs of three of those species. All of the lemurs were housed separately overnight while sharing the same exhibit during the day, and not all of the lemurs got along with one another. When I first started working with the lemurs all members of each species looked identical to me. So when I was charged with shifting them onto and off of exhibit by myself, I was nervous.

But the more time I spent with the lemurs the more I began to realize that they each had their own distinct personality. Each one responded differently to me when I entered the building. In time I was able to identify the individual lemurs based on their physical appearance as well as by the subtle nuances of their behaviors. I knew these animals almost in the same way that I knew the clerk behind the counter, who I interacted with daily at the local convenience store.

Iam now a research technician in the Biology Department at the University of Southern Mississippi.  I get paid to venture out to the Mississippi Barrier Islands and other areas along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to catch fish via seining and trawling. I get to see things that men who have been fishing the waters  their entire lives have never seen before. I can’t believe that I get paid to do what I do.

Recently I have begun working with an organization called Outdoor Afro (OA). Outdoor Afro is an organization that focuses on reconnecting African Americans to the natural world. I am a member of the OA regional leadership team. This team consists of about 15 individuals across the nation who have committed to leading a minimum of four group treks into the great outdoors. Through various outdoor recreation activities we hope to reconnect America to the natural world one person at a time. Connect with Outdoor Afro on Facebook, too!

I have also founded a non-profit group called the South Mississippi Family Nature (FaN) Club. The club was inspired by the Children and Nature Network’s efforts to link organizations that allow people to find resources in their own regions to help them connect with the natural world.

The South MS FaN club is listed on the Children and Nature Network’s Movement Directory.

Because of my childhood and the path that I’ve taken, I now feel that it’s time for me to give back to society.  I am choosing to do that through the organizations that I am working with and the one that I am starting.  I have a deep and enduring love of the natural world and feel a connection to it that makes me want to protect it for future generations. I hope to instill the same love in as many people as I can.

No matter what you’re going through you can find solace in the great outdoors. If you simply take a walk in a forest you will find peace. If you pay attention you’ll learn something you never knew about the world. And about yourself.

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