By Rick Hynum
Josh Nadzam, recipient of the 2012 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at the University of Kentucky, has never been the kind of person who runs away from problems—he runs toward them, always looking to help. Raised by a hard-working single mother in housing projects near Pittsburgh, Nadzam used his smarts and skills as a scholar-athlete to escape grinding poverty, winning a full scholarship with the Wildcats’ track and field team and becoming one of the top milers in the SEC.
Today, Nadzam, a past facilitator of the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreats, is the driving force behind a Lexington, Kentucky social enterprise called On the Move Art Studio, a mobile art room housed in a refurbished trailer that travels to underserved neighborhoods and hosts free arts classes for at-risk youth. The organization has served more than 10,000 children since it started.
“First and foremost, art improves self-esteem,” Nadzam said. “When you attempt an art project that at first you don’t think you can do, but you complete it, I see very visibly the self-esteem boost that kids have. Kids think, ‘I did that,’ and they feel better.”
“Self-efficacy is another big one we’re focusing on,” he added. “With a lot of the kids, their immediate reaction is, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I’m bad, I’m terrible.’ This shows them that not only can you do an art project, you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Running for Black Lives
Still, Nadzam knows the children of color he works with face an uncertain future in a culture that has been crying out for social justice reforms for decades. That’s why he recently jumped at the chance to serve as an ally with the Black Lives Matter movement while putting his running skills to good use.
To raise money for the Kentucky NAACP, Nadzam organized the Run for Black Lives, a 26-mile marathon from Lexington to Frankfort, Kentucky, on June 19. Supporters donated a dollar amount per mile, with 130 people generating more than $7,000. The fundraiser spawned headlines, too, including coverage from two local TV stations and the Lexington Herald-Leader.
“Racism, discrimination and the injustices experienced by black Americans are completely unacceptable, and I want to do everything I can to play my role in dismantling the systemic structures that perpetuate these issues,” Nadzam said. “I want to be an ally, fight for social justice, and make our country welcoming and fair for all Americans. I’m always trying to think of various ways I can effect change, so in addition to policy changes, protests and other forms of activism, I believe each one of us has a set of skills we can use to contribute to the cause. Mine happens to be running. So I thought I could raise awareness for this issue and also raise funds for an organization that is constantly fighting this battle by running from my home city to our capitol in Kentucky.”
The expression “Black Lives Matter” has been widely misinterpreted—and misrepresented—in the past, but more Americans of all races have embraced it in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed during an arrest by police in Minneapolis on May 25. Already upset over earlier police-related killings of young African-Americans—including Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky—hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to protest racism and harsh police methods in cities across the U.S.
“To me, (‘Black Lives Matter’) is an expression that the black community feels like their lives do not matter as much as other lives,” Nadzam said. “It’s a rallying cry to draw attention to deep, systematic issues that have existed for centuries. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘An injustice to one is an injustice to all.’ So, while I’ll never be able to relate to what it is like to be black in America, if anyone hurts in America, I hurt, too. Their pain is my pain. We’re all in this together, so I won’t rest until we fix this.”
Nadzam also offered advice for white Americans who want to join him as allies with the black community. “I think what we all need to do as effective allies is to listen, be humble, approach these situations without defensiveness, and recognize as white people that we have privileges that allow us to navigate America in a much different and safer way than people of color,” he said.
“Also, this fight is a marathon, not a sprint,” Nadzam added. “While it is ‘trending’ right now, this issue is going to take decades to resolve. We need everyone to get engaged and stay engaged long after this conversation fades away from the national spotlight.”