Bay Nature magazineSpring 2024

Bay Nature Local Heroes

Local Heroes 2024: Naji Lockett, Young Leader

March 21, 2024
(Illustration by
Violeta Encarnación)

Fallen oak branches, tangles of dense undergrowth, heaps of eucalyptus bark, and packed stands of fir trees cover thousands of acres of public land in the East Bay. Scrambling to lessen the risk of wildfire and clear overgrowth, park agencies and public utilities are contracting help. And Naji Lockett is a hot commodity in that market.

Naji leads young crews who cut and pile that vegetation for later burning or chipping, while keeping an eye out for woodrat nests and other important wildlife habitat. These are long, eight-hour days, sometimes in the rain or intense heat, and it takes a certain secret sauce to keep a crew motivated. 

“I’m just working alongside them, so they can get a better understanding of how the work needs to be done and have a good work ethic,” says Naji. “This is a hard labor job … but I just let them know, ‘You’re making a big difference doing this type of work, for the safety of others and the earth itself.’”

At age 24, Naji is the youngest staff member at Civicorps, a nonprofit in West Oakland modeled after the New Deal–era Civilian Conservation Corps. The organization trains 18- to 26-year-olds who live below the poverty line for green jobs, ranging from land management to recycling collection. Naji grew up nearby, close enough to walk to the Civicorps HQ, and started the Civicorps training after finishing high school. Almost two years ago, he accepted a staff position to manage the training crews he’d started in, bringing a calm, empathic leadership style. “Naji has a lot of grit,” says Steven Addison, Civicorps’ conservation program manager. “His path is one people look up to.”

The 2024 Bay Nature Local Hero Awards

Every year, the Bay Nature board chooses four community-nominated leaders who are changing Bay Area nature and communities for the better. “These are folks who speak with their actions and choices over days, years, and decades and motivate us all to do the same,” writes our editor in chief, Victoria Schlesinger. Here are profiles of the 2024 award winners:

Yakuta Poonawalla, Community Hero Award

Katharyn Boyer, Environmental Educator Award

Kellyx Nelson, Conservation Action Award

There was a day in Tilden Regional Park, Naji recalls, when his crew was working in the rain, and people were cold, and they started to share stories. “We kind of bonded and built more fortitude, hearing the good and bad about everyone. We’re all going through stuff. And just being humane … like, ‘I’m thankful you understand my situation and don’t judge what goes on outside here, but just respect my work ethic.’” Civicorps cleared almost 1,000 acres in fiscal year 2022.

All the time he’s spent in the parks has Naji envisioning more nature in West Oakland: “If things were a lot more maintained,” he says, “there would be more nature and wildlife would come.” And he has a quiet hope that the community can learn more about ecology, about how “certain plants attract certain insects. And if you can bring insects around, birds come—and if birds come, they’ll nest … just knowing that cycle.”

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About the Author

Victoria Schlesinger is the editor in chief of Bay Nature.