Liz Broussard, 26, likes to get out of her comfort zone. She hails from Concord, N.H., went to Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and graduated in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in food and the environment, and another in music. She spent a year in Norwich, Conn., as a service member for FoodCorps, which aims to connect kids to healthy food in school. When the organization offered her a position in Jackson, she told herself, "Why not? It's a place that I know nothing about."
Four years later, Broussard is still in Jackson and working at the National Center for Appropriate Technology as its food-justice project coordinator. She says she is passionate about "connecting people to their food and where it comes from," and works with low-income, minority and under-served groups such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Asian Americans for Change and others. Her work is to educate adults and children on healthy eating, helps train new farmers, helps create school and community gardens, and tries to advance local farm-to-table efforts.
"I take great joy in the work that I do," she says.
Broussard is also involved with The Cooperative Community of New West Jackson, which is an organization that aims to build a resident-led model neighborhood from the ground up and from the inside out. She refers to her work there as "not my day job, but the rest-of-my-time job." Broussard refers to her work with the cooperative as "Some of the most meaningful (and innovative) work I do."
Liz is a classically trained singer and designed her own major in college, "Food and the Environment." She attends CityHeart Church in Jackson. —Richard Coupe
Calvin Black entered Millsaps College in 2012 with the goal of eventually becoming a lawyer. But one night, he and his friend and current business partner, Sean Joseph, talked about into business for themselves.
"It was like, 'You know what would be nice? If after college, you never just go get a job. You could work for yourself,'" Black says.
It started off as them selling T-shirts under the moniker, Started With a Dream, which is now the name of their holding company. But they now have two local businesses: finance-app business, and Better Beignets, which Black says seeks to add a missing element to Jackson's food culture.
Black, a New Orleans native, grew up eating at Cafe Du Monde. After coming to Jackson in 2012 to attend Millsaps College, Black says he wanted to bring the New Orleans institution to Jackson. But after the business said no to a franchise, he had the idea of creating his own.
Black graduated from Millsaps in May 2016 with a bachelor's degree in business and a minor in political science. He is currently two classes away from completing his master's degree in business administration.
He started Better Beignets in summer 2016. For the first few months, he and business partners Joseph, Emerson Brundick and Lauren Jean Kerr focused on spreading the word. They began delivering beignets to businesses and organizations such as the Mississippi Development Authority, and even made them on-site on college campuses and at events such as Fondren's First Thursday. In May 2017, the business did its first catering event at Seersuckers & Sombreros.
Black, 23, is also the software developer for finance-research app Finaius. The business began last year during Startup Weekend.
He says another reason he wanted to become an entrepreneur was because he wants to live his life to the fullest. "What (life is) about is knowing yourself and thinking, 'Would I rather spend (life) doing something I love and am passionate about, or would I prefer working a job I don't care for just for a paycheck and hope I make enough to live on later?'" he says.
For those who want to become entrepreneurs, he says that you can't let fear hold you back. —Mike McDonald
Alachua Nazarenko, 26, is from Tallahassee, Fla., but has lived in the Jackson area for four years now and says that she is enthusiastic about her adopted home.
"I see myself as an ambassador to others to tell the Jackson story," she says. "People hear about the Jackson negatives, but not the positives, and my husband (Erik Nazarenko) feels the same way."
In spring 2013, shortly before Nazarenko, who is Jewish, graduated with her bachelor's degree in Near Eastern and Judaic studies from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., she was wondering what the future would bring. Then, she stumbled upon an advertisement for a fellowship at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson.
After spending a semester abroad in Israel and a year in Poland helping under-served Jewish communities with education and cultural activities, she knew that she wanted to keep serving Jewish congregations.
"I love being in a small Jewish community because ownership belongs to you," she says. "To make something happen, you have to do it and not rely on someone else to get it done. It's really beautiful and rewarding."
After working at the institute for two years as an education fellow, she was offered a full-time position as the cultural programming coordinator.
Through her position, she covers a 13-state area from Texas to Virginia, and one of her main activities is matching Jewish presenters—artists, authors, comedians, storytellers, musicians and others—with congregations at affordable prices. She also works with Jewish congregations to find collaborators, such as churches or universities, to help with funding.
Nazarenko met her husband, Erik, who is a senior financial systems analyst at Butler Snow Law firm, in Boston. The couple lives in Brandon near the reservoir and enjoys the Jackson food and music scene. —Richard Coupe
Politics is in Torey Cahn's blood.
Cahn grew up in the east suburbs of Seattle, Wash., and his parents, Andy Cahn and June Rogers, were in politics. His father was an organizer against nuclear power in the 1980s, and his mother worked in Washington, D.C., with various congressional campaigns. His uncle, Dwight Pelz, was the chairman of Washington state's Democratic Party.
"The dinner table was always politics," he says. "It wasn't how the (Seattle) Mariners were doing. It was what the new fed chair had done to raise rates or something."
Though he grew up in an activist family, Cahn says he didn't really think of politics as a career. He says he thought that he would either have to live in Washington, D.C., or work at the state capitol to follow that path.
Cahn came to Jackson in fall 2010 to attend Millsaps College. While there, he began interning at Chism Strategies, formerly Zata3, as a junior staffer and went to Washington, D.C., in 2012 for that year's presidential election. He graduated from Millsaps in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in history and stayed on with Chism as a senior staffer. He then ran the company's Jackson office for about a year. His first taste of political campaigning was with Joce Prichett's campaign for state auditor in 2015.
"(I liked) the fact that there was an openly gay woman who was willing to just be brave enough ... to say, 'Hey, I'm part of Mississippi, too,'" he says. "I'm very proud of that race."
Last year, Cahn served as the political director for the Mississippi Democratic Trust from March to May, and he was the deputy data director for the New Hampshire Democratic Coordinated Campaign from June to November 2016 during Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
From January 2017 to May 2017, Cahn worked as the data director for Sen. John Horhn's mayoral campaign. His role during the campaign was to evaluate Horhn's progress through methods such as polling and canvassing neighborhoods, and he also ran the voter files and databases, and trained with volunteers and staff members. For that race, he did all of the polling in-house.
"It's using data analytics to target our voters and data analytics to figure out how well we're doing and how well our staff is doing," he says
Cahn, 25, says that what keeps him coming to Jackson is the sense of community in the city.
"I will not walk into any restaurant or place and not know three people. I just have a friend at every coffee shop," he says. "... Jackson just has that charm that just grabs you and doesn't let you go," he says. —Amber Helsel
Bilal Qizilbash, 30, says he "can't sit still." When he is not helping to feed the underprivileged through the R U Hungry? initiative, he is working on his next invention. The scientist, philanthropist and innovator from Queens, N.Y., says he constantly looks for ways to improve the world around him.
After earning a bachelor's degree in biology from Stony Brook University in 2010, Qizilbash went to Mississippi College to get his master's degree in medical sciences in 2015. He is currently working on a master's degree in business administration at MC, as well.
Several years ago, Qizilbash and other students began feeding the homeless in downtown Jackson. He says that the only question they asked was, "Are you hungry?" Now, the R U Hungry? program feeds around 200 people every Friday at Smith Park. Through his nonprofit, Draw a Smile Foundation, Qizilbash also started R U Fed?, which partners with local restaurants to provide meals for those in need.
"Poverty isn't always what you think it looks like," Qizilbash says. "We are in it to try and solve the problem."
He says his goal is to stabilize Jackson homelessness and create a model that can be used throughout the country. Qizilbash is also working on the Happy Homes Initiative, which would create low-cost housing and help end the homeless epidemic.
"I want to establish equity, justice and peace," Qizilbash says. "I want to help people thrive, instead of just survive."
He says that one of his reasons for working so hard is that he has a heart for Jackson. "I fell in love with Mississippi," he says. "The people are beautiful."
Some also know Qizilbash as the "Mississippi Kale Guy" for his research on whether kale can kill cancerous cells. In 2014, he presented his findings at the Global Health Innovation Conference at Yale University, discussing the numerous health benefits of kale and how he believes the vegetable "superfood" has the potential to fight cancer.
He created his own company, Qizilbash Holdings, to continue his research and share his discoveries on a larger scale. He even has a "Kale Yea" license plate.
"I have a weird sense of humor, but I think most scientists do," Qizilbash says with a laugh. —Abigail Walker
By day, Jackson native Amanda Furdge, 29, is the youth program coordinator for the Children's Defense Fund, but in her free time, she is a poet, writer, community leader, cultural curator and a mother of two boys, Titan and Mega.
Furdge says she was attracted to the arts at an early age, first through singing in and directing her church choir. She later took an interest in writing and began creating songs, poems and short stories.
"There's an excitement that comes from writing, it's much like anticipation," she says. "Wherever I am when inspiration hits, and I'm thinking, 'What will I write and how will this come together?', it feels like something else takes over, and I kind of just give in."
After graduating from Lanier High School and a brief stint in the U.S. Navy in 2006, she enrolled at Hinds Community College. She moved to Chicago in January 2007 and began taking classes at Truman College that spring.
Over the years, she has worked in various capacities with people such as the poet Malik Yusef, hip-hop artist Talib Kweli and civil-rights leader and political activist Fred Hampton Jr., who is currently the chairman of civil-rights organization Prisoners of Conscience Committee.
"I was Chairman Fred's secretary (from 2008 to 2013), and to be so connected to a source of power and legacy undoubtedly changed my life," she says. "There is so much love, so much love in my relationship with Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. and all of those guys. It balanced me as a southern belle, artist and activist."
She moved back to Jackson in 2014 after the birth of her first son, Titan. She began working for the Children's Defense fund in February 2017. In her position there, she says she is in charge of keeping southern black and brown youth engaged in leadership programs and helping them find resources.
"We want them to be leaders," Furdge says. "We want them to be aware of their surroundings. ... We want them to see that Mississippi is a place to stay."
Recently, she released her latest creative effort, "From a Brown Paper Bag," which is a collection of short nonfiction stories, poems, quotes and more that express her thoughts and ideas. The book is available on Amazon and on her website, amandafurdge.com.
She says that she's looking at other mediums, such as photography and theater, to present FABPB in a new light in the near future.
"I really want to do my part to reconnect literature (poetry and storytelling) with music and visual art," Furdge says. "Think Zora Neal Hurston on stage with Coltrane while Gordon Parks documented the entire scene." —Malcolm Morrow
Womenis Rights leader
An impressive toy collection of female characters from television shows, movies and public figures sits on shelves in Felicia Brown-William's office at Planned Parenthood Southeast in Jackson. "After a tough day, especially during the past election, I stared at these figures and they reminded me of the amazing things women can do," Brown-William says.
She was not pleased with the outcome of the election, but had faced fights before.
"Planned Parenthood is the most scrutinized organization in the state and maybe even the country," she says. "We have to be sure everything is in order all the time."
When videos that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood executives describing fetal-tissue donation were released in 2015, they ignited a renewed controversy for the organization.
Williams was not surprised, given the scrutiny and was never worried. "We knew we did nothing wrong," she says.
The Hattiesburg native says she first came to Planned Parenthood, which does not perform abortions in Mississippi, as a patient. Brown-Williams, who had been involved in women's rights issues, decided to apply for a job as a grassroots coordinator, and has worked her way up in the organization. In September 2016, she became the Mississippi state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast.
She says scrutiny and more broadly, misinformation, are forces that Planned Parenthood encounters all the time. "If a see a person on the street protesting the women's clinic in Jackson, I don't stop my car to have a conversation," Brown-William says. "I know I won't reach that person, and I know that I'm not moveable from my positions. I look for someone who is willing to learn and listen. The best way to change minds is by having a conversation."
In her position at Planned Parenthood, Williams participates in advocacy along with her lobbying work. When the Legislature is in session, she listens to debates for bills such as Proposition 26, also known as the Personhood Amendment, which was defeated in 2011, attends committee hearings and talks to senators and representatives. "The work that we do is so important because I can see the real impact we have on people's lives," she says. —Mike McDonald
Local artist Lesley Collins has worked at Wolfe Studio, a family-owned ceramic studio in Jackson, since November 2016. The studio's founders, Carl and Mildred Wolfe, first opened shop in the early 1940s. Their daughter, Bebe Wolfe, now runs the business.
"Owls, pelicans and other birds are the most popular figures we produce here, along with things like elephants and rabbits," Collins says. "The best thing about them is that they're handmade in Mississippi, right here in Jackson."
Collins, who was born in Missouri but grew up in Jackson, moved to Chicago in 1999 due to her father Corrice Collins' work as a TV news producer. However, she returned to Mississippi for college and graduated from Jackson State University with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in 2011.
Collins says that when she first came to Wolfe Studio, she only planned to work there part-time, but the family of artists at the studio inspired her to focus on her creative passion.
"I've always wanted to be able to devote myself to art full-time, and they put a fire in me to really think about how I approach my work,"
In addition to her work at Wolfe Studio, she also serves as a coordinator for the Mississippi Museum of Art's Museum School, a summer-camp program that brings in local artists to teach children about a variety of mediums.
Collins also is devoted to her own artwork. She is best known for her found-object pieces, which often deal with sociopolitical issues such as voting rights. Her artwork also allows her to use her love of research to add new levels of depth to each piece. — Dustin Cardon
Musician and educator Kazuaki Shiota has only lived in Jackson for about two years, but he has already been active in many of the city's cultural institutions.
He currently teaches music technology, theory and composition at the Millsaps College Conservatory of Music, and is a substitute instructor for St. Andrew's Episcopal School and Jackson Preparatory School
Shiota, 36, is also a board member for the Japan-America Society of Mississippi, a nonprofit that works to promote business and cultural relations between Japan and Mississippi.
He created JASMIS's monthly Japanese Culture Forum, which allows the organization's Japanese and American members to interact and learn about each other's cultures.
Even before officially moving to the United States in 2000, Shiota had a tie to Mississippi in Osaka, Japan, which participates in an exchange program with St. Andrew's in Jackson. He took part in the program as a high-school senior and was sent to Austin, Texas, rather than Jackson, but the move ended up being an important one for his education and career path.
Through his time at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, Shiota began experimenting with different musical styles and instruments through school and learning how to improvise from his host-family father, Pat Whale, who was also a musician. Both skills came in handy when he decided to stay in the U.S. and attend the University of North Texas College of Music and needed to showcase something original at the prestigious school.
"I really liked composing tonal music at that time and learning minor-sevenths and add-nines and tension chords that sound cool," he says. "But the chairs in the department didn't like it. 'Well, it sounds like someone's music.' ... I said, 'Hmm, OK. How about I learned how to tap-dance and fiddle, so what if I put that together?'"
He graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor's degree in composition in 2004 and then moved to Ohio to attend the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music on a full scholarship and stipend, earning his master's degree in 2006 and his doctorate in 2012.
He and his wife of six years, Jackson native Karen Wissel, moved to Mississippi in 2015, but he continues to teach online courses at the University of Cincinnati in subjects such as music technology, and Japanese pop culture and video-game music. —Micah Smith
In her former position as the community-relations manager for the Mississippi Children's Museum, Chellese Hall spent the last six years promoting programs dedicated to improving education for children in Mississippi.
In January 2017, Hall, 24, became the communications manager for Woodard Hines Education Foundation, which is a nonprofit that provides college access for students throughout Mississippi through its Get2College program.
That program helps students choose the right college, provides information on colleges for parents, and helps students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
"The Get2College program focuses low-income or disenfranchised students, who in many cases may be the first person in their family to go to college," Hall says. "The program helps students from all backgrounds get to college and increases the number of students staying in and graduating."
Originally from Detroit, Hall moved to Mississippi with her family at age 6 in 1998. She graduated from Brandon High School in 2000 and went on to Belhaven University, where she majored in electronic communications for journalism, graduating with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2014.
Hall started volunteering at the Children's Museum in spring 2011 because of the museum's commitment to finding fun ways to teach kids.
"I saw it as a new experience that would provide a great opportunity to learn," she says. "It's the museum's mission to inspire children to develop a love of learning through a young age through fun activities and exhibits. Everyone there takes fun seriously and indulges that fun-in-education aspect in everything that they do."
She worked part-time for the Children's Museum as a student and then entered her full-time position in the marketing department after graduation.
In her former capacity as the community-relations manager for the Children's Museum, Hall assisted with social media, relayed information on events happening at the museum and promoted the museum's efforts for children in radio and television appearances.
She also assisted with programs such as "Lights! Camera! Imagination!," a talent search that introduces children to the performing arts by giving them the chance to become the face and voice of the museum's marketing materials.
Hall is a board member of the Women's Foundation of Mississippi, where she advocates and helps provide grants for programs aimed at helping women succeed in college and move toward economic security. She also has served as the communications guru for the Satchel Podcast Player since July 2016 as a consultant. —Dustin Cardon
From the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles to Seattle to Hawaii and finally to Jackson, Marlena Nip has been quite the journeywoman in her 24 years.
After graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor's degree in political science in 2014, Nip moved to Seattle and volunteered for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest. There she served in marginalized communities and began to hone in on her desire to work in food sustainability and food justice.
"I've always liked working outside and not just sitting behind a desk," she says. "I need things to do constantly."
Nip says that she did not expect to end up in Jackson. After a yearlong stint in Hawaii as a service member for FoodCorps, which aims to connect kids and schools to healthy food), she applied to be fellow in her home state, California.
"I told myself, 'I'm ... going back to California. If I don't get that, I'll find a different job,'" she says. "Well, I got a phone call from FoodCorps asking if they (could) send my application to Mississippi."
Despite having never been to the South, she accepted when FoodCorps offered her the job, and she moved to Jackson in fall 2016.
As a fellow, Nip primarily works to support the 10 FoodCorps service members in Mississippi. "I go for on-site visits to see how they're doing in the classroom and make them feel supported," she says. "A lot of them come to me for questions, and I just support them through ideas and what to do."
In addition to supporting the service members, over the past two months, Nip has started up a new project with FoodCorps and the National Center for Appropriate Technology.
"I've developed a garden education training program where we go into communities or schools," she says. "We just did one at the Piney Woods School, and we taught all the teachers how to utilize the garden and outdoor space into their lessons, to mix it up. It's hard to students to sit in a class for six hours"
Despite her West Coast predilection, Nip says she has really taken to Jackson during her seven months in the capital city.
"I'm here, doing this work, and I love it." —Tyler Edwards
Anyone familiar with YouTuber Jim Sterling and his weekly web series, "The Jimquisition," might be surprised to learn that there's quite a difference between the condescending, self-aggrandizing English host and the actual video-game journalist who plays him.
"It's sort of my personality turned up to a horrific extreme that would get me ostracized from polite society, but it works really well in the form of that show," Sterling, 33, says. "... People seem to really get behind the ironic cult of personality we've built around it, this character who has no business deifying himself. He stands in front of action figures and yells about video games but treats himself as some godly prophet."
Sterling developed the character almost out of necessity. He began working at games media outlet Destructoid in 2006 and created "The Jimquisition" about four years later. He then sold the rights to another media outlet, The Escapist, but realized that the audience for the site wasn't interested in the no-budget, unscripted style that he had been doing.
Sterling retooled the show and boosted the production quality, but the audience still wasn't interested for a while, so he decided that, if no one else was having fun, then he would. Sterling says he began rubbing in the show's existence, signing off episodes with, "Thank God for me," and saying that he was jealous that viewers could watch the show and he could only make it.
"It was really going over the top with this persona, and it turns out, the more I ground that into people's faces, the more they enjoyed it," he says. "So I couldn't make the show popular when I was trying to make it popular, and I couldn't make it hated when I was trying to make it hated."
Despite the brash character that he plays, Sterling most often uses "The Jimquisition" as a force for good. His videos tend to focus on real-world issues in the game industry, covering topics such as shoddy business practices, working conditions for developers, and how sociopolitical changes affect games.
"Although, mostly, it is just a show about a man yelling at video games when he should have better things to do," Sterling says with a laugh.
He began self-producing "The Jimquisition" in late 2014 with the help of supporters on Patreon, which currently has more than 5,400 monthly contributors. He also has more than 495,500 subscribers on his YouTube channel. He married his wife, Alex, about eight years ago, and the couple has lived in Jackson ever since. —Micah Smith