Humans of UK: Josh Nadzam is optimistic for change


Josh Nadzam, a violence prevention coordinator, smiles for a portrait on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | StaffAbbey Cutrer

Abbey Cutrer

Instead of drinking coffee to start his day, Josh Nadzam spends every morning taking 10 minutes to get grounded and uses his passion for social justice and his optimism as his caffeine.

As a coordinator at the VIP Center, Nadzam’s role is to educate students about the need to reduce interpersonal violence on campus and how they can help.

“My role is more proactive,” he said. “Can we create a campus where students can spend four years here and not a single person is assaulted or harmed in any way?  [It’s] a big dream, but I think [it] is totally possible.” 

Nadzam, a violence prevention coordinator and professor at UK’s College of Social Work, is from Monaca, Pennsylvania, where he lived until he was 18. Nadzam describes his hometown as a “tight-knit, close community” where he is grateful to have the sense and feeling of home.

However, his personal life was less comfortable. When Nadzam was a child, he witnessed his father abuse his mother, which has stuck with him.

“As a child, I couldn’t do anything about it, but now as an adult, I can,” Nadzam said. “Now that I have that ability, that’s really important to me.” 

Nadzam said that his passion for social change motivates him to work to eliminate the too-common problem of domestic violence.

“I remember there being a quote that says, ‘Be the adult you needed as a kid,’” he said.

Nadzam’s genuine care for the physical safety and mental wellbeing of students is reflected not only in his profession but in his free time as well. Nadzam is the co-founder of On the Move Art Studio, a nonprofit organization headquartered in a trailer transformed into a mobile art room. 

“I wanted to start a nonprofit to help kids who grew up like I did, and I grew up in a pretty rough situation,” Nadzam said. 

The trailer is taken to underserved neighborhoods and low income schools that lack art programs, where it houses free art classes for kids. Right now, the studio is serving around 400 students per week.

Nadzam describes himself as “annoyingly optimistic;” this optimism radiated from him as he shared that once he understood the impact of art, he began to view it as a solution.

In a world that is discouraging at times, Nadzam remains positive and holds true to his core values. 

 “Nobody has to experience violence,” Nadzam said. “Nobody has to experience all these man-made things: poverty, racism, discrimination [and] homelessness, and I think we can change all of it. I want to be able to say that in my short time that I have on this earth, I tried.”