Episode 14 – Josh Nadzam of On The Move Art Studio

Episode 14 – Josh Nadzam of On The Move Art Studio

Dr. Jones talks with Josh Nadzam about rap battles, how a difficult life brought him to social work, and his non-profit “On the Move Art Studio.”






A community activist and social worker, Josh is the co-founder and director of On The Move Art Studio and an instructor at the UK College of Social Work. He was raised by a single mother in the projects and fought hard to overcome significant adversities throughout his childhood. He walked-on to the UK Track and Field Team and eventually earned a full scholarship and became one of the top milers in the SEC, receiving several honors such as the UK Sullivan Medallion Award and the John Wooden Citizen Cup Award (finalist).  After earning a master’s degree in social work, Josh worked at the domestic violence shelter GreenHouse17 and has been involved in and led many community initiatives including #BringUsHome, Josh’s Run to Frankfort, and the 24 Hour Homeless Challenge. Josh recently received the 2016 Lexington Leadership Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was named a 2017 880 Cities Emerging Cities Champion.


Other Credits

Middle music “Time Flies” from 100 Stories Vol. 3 by Jason Paul Johnston https://jasonpauljohnston.bandcamp.com/album/100-stories-vol-3


Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the social work Conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world. I’m joined today by Josh Nadzam from our college of social work. You’re a part time instructor for us, a graduate of our program here and welcome to the program.

Josh: [00:00:36] Yeah yeah thank you. Thank you for having me.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:38] So Josh you are a part time instructor for us here at our college of social work. Tell us a little bit about what you teach. What are you what do you like about teaching. What are the challenges that you have?

Josh: [00:00:49] Yes. So right now I teach one class “groups” class so about how to lead a group counseling session. Last semester I taught two classes so I really love it. For me like I was saying where I have a lot of energy. It’s been so cool to share that energy with other students. It really helps my wife out because she’s usually the only person who has to hear all of my ramblings that I’m so excited about this and her about these ideas. So now instead of dumping all this energy on her I can parcel it out to the class. I teach right now 40 students. So instead of just giving all on her I can spread the wealth. But I really enjoy it. I love finding new articles and different ways of engaging with them. I love the passion and love the energy. It’s been really fun to be honest. It’s been challenging too but I probably spend way too much time coming up with lesson plans and activities. But I just really care about it a lot and I try to put everything I have into that hour and 15 minutes twice a week with them.

Dr. Jones: [00:02:04] That’s good. I’ve always seen teaching as a way to really grow and kind of mentor future social workers and to me that’s incredibly powerful you know.

Josh: [00:02:16] Yeah yeah. You know and I think hopefully it’s a good thing. Like I said I have lots of energy so I just tell them how excited I am about social work how excited I am that you know I’ve been in the field and I know how big some of the problems are out there. So the fact that there’s 40 of them joining the battle (so to speak) is really exciting for me because I’m like “We need you out there. We need more social workers we need more people to care.” So the fact that there’s 40 of them in training right now is in itself so exciting to me because I’m like “yes.” It’s like getting more troops. It’s like OK we need we need backup we need more people out there advocating for marginalized populations and helping clients and trying to make things just a little bit more better and a little more “just.”

Dr. Jones: [00:03:04] Yeah. I wanted to have you on the podcast because I think you know we always try to talk with people about what got them in to social work and I think we all have a story of what got us here. Yeah I think your story is fascinating. And so I would love for you just to tell us a little bit about how you came to social work.

Josh: [00:03:24] Yeah yeah. So I think for me like you said most people have a reason for being in this field. And for me it’s a “why” I think all of us have a why as to what we do and my why is definitely the way I grew up. So for me social work is not just a job but it’s also very personal. I grew up in a really bad neighborhood with a lot of drugs and a lot of crime. And it was Section 8 housing in a small town near Pittsburgh used to be a really great place to live. Back when the steel mills were really robust but once steel kind of went south and collapsed there’s not much left there. So for me just kind of starting off on that just lots and lots of poverty. I come from a broken home and a broken family lots of cycles of addiction and poverty saw a lot of really bad things growing up.

Josh: [00:04:20] One of my earliest memories was my grandfather was a heavy alcoholic and he used to be intoxicated every day and I watched him actually fall off of our porch deck and he landed on his neck. And for the last eight years of his life he was paralyzed from the neck down. He could only move his head in a hospital bed. Then a couple years later my father similar fate just always always drinking very abusive. He fell at a carwash where he was he was working and he hit his head and had to undergo emergency brain surgery and was in a coma – really traumatic kind of stuff. And eventually recovered but was paralyzed on his left side and things like that just kept happening it seemed like every year there was at least one major traumatic thing that happened. My father’s attempted suicide a few times.

Josh: [00:05:13] My mother actually she’s an incredible person. She has schizophrenia. So she was diagnosed when she was 20 and she had me at 23 and the medicine and everything she was on kind of kept it under wraps kept everything pretty healthy functioning level but then when I was in fifth grade we’re not sure if the medicine wore off or maybe her or her levels changed or she stopped taking her medicine. But things just started getting really bizarre at home and she had to be admitted into a psychiatric ward for several months. So for me that was about adulthood. I had to move in with my grandmother. Lots of stuff going on trying to help my mom pay the bills to keep our apartment open when she came out of the hospital and things like that just kept happening throughout my childhood. So that was one of the main reasons what drove me to social work is thinking that OK I made it out but about 10 kids I grew up with have already died from drug overdose. So for me I don’t really see much difference between myself and them. I see a lot of it kind of like almost like Russian roulette. Like I somehow by chance of luck made it out of there and they didn’t. And so I feel like it’s my responsibility to try to help other kids pull them out of the of the wreckage. That’s kind of how I got started.

Dr. Jones: [00:06:34] Yeah let’s let’s let’s talk about that a little bit more that concept of you call it luck. And you know in social work we talk a lot about the concept of resilience. And when I think about you growing up in that situation do you consider yourself as a as a resilient person or how did that kind of play out in your life that that made you overcome those really scary experiences that you had?

Josh: [00:07:04] Yeah I think that I know him I’m a stubborn person in terms of like being focused on goals so when I was five I remember seeing all the carnage around. I remember so many people my family just being drunk all the time and it was my father used to brag about how he could drink a fifth of whiskey every day and just always seeing all of that. And I remember thinking when I was five this didn’t seem normal. It didn’t seem like people were supposed to be like this just always yelling and screaming and fighting and just miserable. So I made a vow that I would never drink alcohol when I was five. And I’m 29 so 24 years later I’ve never drank alcohol.

Josh: [00:07:47] So there was one thing that I just decided that there was no way I wanted to continue this cycle. I ended up getting a tattoo a few years ago. It just says cycle broken. It was very important for me because I wanted to just break this cycle of addiction and domestic violence and abuse. So I’d say I’m pretty stubborn in terms of like when I set my mind on something. It’s really what I want to do. But I think that I’d be arrogant if I was to take all credit for it because I think the one of the big things is kids just have to have somebody who takes an interest in them and to the main people who really saved me was my Uncle Brad. He started dating my aunt when I was around 13 and I was chaos. I was one of those. . .If you had me as a teacher you would have hated me. I couldn’t take what was going on at home. So I would fight in school I’d get kicked out of school. I would lead our basketball team in points but I’d also lead him and ejections and personal fouls. I had a horrible anger problem. And as soon as Brad stepped in and started spending time with me he was the first positive male influence I had and I could plot my trajectory at that moment and suddenly started going up because I had somebody who I could trust who knew who I could talk to. And then my basketball coach Coach K Tom Karczewski also stepped in once he realized what was going on at home. He started to be a stable influence that was really what I needed was just stability. So I think that’s one of the biggest things that helped me.

Dr. Jones: [00:09:26] Yeah. You mentioned sports. I know that you’re a runner and you even think you came to UK and ran track. Do I have that right?

Josh: [00:09:35] Yeah yeah.

Dr. Jones: [00:09:36] So. So I wonder if you could talk about how sports. I mean it sounds like sports gave you some direction or some some focus with all of that energy and just stuff – that chaos that was going on.

Josh: [00:09:51] Yeah.

Dr. Jones: [00:09:52] Your life. Did did sports and running in particular give you a place to put all of that?

Josh: [00:09:57] It definitely did. By my senior year I always say I was I was captain of the football team captain of the basketball team captain of the track team and captain of the cross-country team. But the last one is not that cool. It’s nothing against cross-country but I was the only person on the cross-country team like I was captain but I was literally the whole team. So we were a very small school. So for me just having all those outlets to put all this energy and frustration especially football now I’ll be honest it helped me to hit people or at least get some of that aggression out but also just having things to work towards.

Josh: [00:10:34] One of my snapshot memories from my childhood was there was this brown building and everybody knew the brown building as the place where kids would go behind to use drugs. And every year of my life I could look back and see what the different drug was so like starting out third grade is when kids started trying tobacco fourth grade fifth grade was starting to use cigarettes and all of this happened behind this brown building and then eventually marijuana. And then of course heroin and the heavier things. But for me every time my friends went behind this brown building I just kept shooting. It was right next to a basketball court. So I just kept staying focused and kept trying to tell myself “No just just keep shooting keep practicing your free throws and they’ll come back to you and you can still be friends with them. But you have to separate yourself or else you end up like your father.”

Dr. Jones: [00:11:26] Wow. That’s a great…that’s a great kind of metaphor I think isn’t it for for staying focused and staying out of trouble – finding something healthy for our clients to do in the middle of, you know, bad things that are going on.

Josh: [00:11:43] Yeah and I think that’s one of the biggest things with kids in poverty and people in poverty is every single day. There’s stuff being thrown at you that you have to somehow resist or try to push back against it takes so much energy to try to resist all the bad things that are happening. The negative influences the people trying to lure you away from from the your goals. So every day is a fight when you are poor.

Music Interlude: [00:12:24] [guitar plays].

Dr. Jones: [00:12:24] Well I want to kind of bring us to your current work because it sounds like it really flowed out of that situation you were in growing up. You helped to found something called “on the move art studio.”

Josh: [00:12:40] Yeah.

Dr. Jones: [00:12:40] I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that what do you do? How did that come about?

Josh: [00:12:44] Yeah so “on the move art studio” we are a non-profit. We took an old vintage trailer and turned it into a mobile art room. And the idea was that we would take this to low income neighborhoods and underserved areas and have free art classes for kids and myself and Kathy Werking. She’s a Kentucky artist incredible person. She’s the co-founder. So me as a social worker understanding what art does to kids or for kids who are maybe suffering from different emotional situations or low income neighborhoods without much to do what I started to realize what art can do for those kids. I thought “Bingo.” This is something that I have to do because this can really help kids. And then Kathy being the incredible artist that she was obviously given us the curriculum and the direction. And because I, at the time, wasn’t very good at art it was like I know what it can do for kids but I don’t have that skill and here’s Kathy with all this endless skill. So it’s been really cool.

Dr. Jones: [00:13:50] Yeah. So how does how does art help troubled kids and I’ll put “troubled kids” in quotes I really liked that term but how does how does art help heal people or perhaps save people?

Josh: [00:14:06] Yeah well I’d say the bare minimum: One of my goals with this was people are always talking about how kids need more stuff to do. And low income neighborhoods need more positive stuff going on. And so I think that’s absolutely true. But then I always wonder why it kind of stops there like people say that and then kind of move on I’m like OK well let’s create something. So at the very least when we go to different neighborhoods and schools if we’re with a kid for 60 minutes that’s at least 60 minutes we can guarantee that he or she is not being exposed to negative things or bad influences. At the most they are really engaged in the creative process of having an outlet for different expressions of emotion. One big thing is, and this is becoming more and more of an issue, is we all get to put our phones away. So instead of constantly having this endless stimulation of phones we kind of put them all away and then just watercolor for an hour or paint on canvas or create something with some clay. So different things like that where kids – I was at first I wasn’t sure some of the teenagers if we were going to get them because when you’re a teenager it’s really cool to not be interested in anything you know just be indifferent and kind of like “ah… not interested in that.” But even teenagers who are really really cool and kind of standoffish at first gravitate over towards us and just dive on in. They just seemed to be really excited. This is our third year in our first two years we served 7400 kids in this area and we haven’t been able to keep up with all the requests that we’re getting. So it’s been cool and means a lot to me that we didn’t want to be paternalistic and just show up in low income neighborhoods unannounced and say hey we’re here to give you art. That would not be cool. But we floated it out there and said hey community this is what we want to do. Let us know if you want us to come it’s free. And people ask us all the time to come. So it’s been it’s been an awesome journey.

Dr. Jones: [00:16:15] That’s great. That’s great. So so you work from grants primarily or how are things funded?

Josh: [00:16:23] Yeah we got our start in November 2014. We had to do a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to do this. We had to raise eight thousand dollars to renovate the trailer that we had. It was a 1969 stream liner and with Kickstarter you have 30 days to hit your goal. So it’s kind of scary because if you don’t hit your goal you don’t get anything. So we started with that. You know we started fixing up the trailer and then September 10th, 2015 is when we first launched. And from there it just really took off lots of people donating money donating supplies. We’ve got a couple of grants. We partner a lot with a lot of organizations that are already doing incredible work. One of the biggest ones was the Lexington Leadership Foundation and Urban Impact which is a program underneath them. They’ve been one of our best partners and took us under their wing. So we’ve gotten a couple of grants in partnership with them. So , yeah, different grants different little fundraisers were really scrappy grassroots effort – so pretty much anything. You know I even collect aluminum cans and turn them in pretty much any way we can raise money. We try it.

Dr. Jones: [00:17:35] So you’ve been at this for a few years now and you know we have listeners really all over the world. And so I wonder if you know in reflecting back about your time doing this what advice would you give to somebody who’s listening to this and some other part of the country that would like to start this kind of art project that you’re doing. What advice would you give them?

Josh: [00:17:58] I would say to do it I would say that there’s absolutely no failure because if you try it and if you have any sort of idea if it’s related to arts or nonprofit or anything if you have any sort of idea and you float it out there and you go for it the worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work out and then that’s it. It’s really once I realized that that that there wasn’t really a failure. It’s like OK maybe that won’t work out and then I’ll move on but at least I tried. The worst thing that can happen is it just doesn’t work out then you have a great story to tell a dinner about that one time you tried to start this thing and it didn’t work. The best thing that could happen is that could happen bigger than you ever imagined. And what I’ve found is that when you put an idea out there, people really want to help. I think every person wants to help but sometimes we don’t know how. So if you put your idea out there and say hey here’s what I want to do you’ll be really surprised at the people who step up and say that’s a really cool idea. I have this skill, I can contribute this way – because people will give money, people will give their time. We had one guy. His name was John and he owns a body shop here in Lexington Magnolia body shop. When we first started he said I’ll haul the trailer around for you until you get your own truck. So even things like that I never would have thought of that somebody would take time out of their day to haul our trailer for us. Just really surprised me so I’d say any idea that you have. You have to do it just leap and the net will appear. That’s kind of the way I approach it.

Dr. Jones: [00:19:32] Yeah. I curious about what you dream about, in terms of your life as a social worker? You’re a young man and I wonder where you kind of see yourself heading as a social worker in your profession. What do you dream about?

Josh: [00:19:34] I think for me and the short term with On the Move Art Studio, my hope would be that we can have 5, 6, 7 trailers going all over the place at the same time. So my hope in the near future is to just keep growing this. I left my traditional social work job in June of 2017 and became the first employee of On The Move Art Studio in July. So I took that leap and it was incredible. I’ve never regretted it. So just trying to grow that – in the future that we would have a couple more staff members. So really growing this and then after that – for me, I love social work – I always tell people I’ve never had coffee in my life. This is my coffee – this is what gets me so excited. Today’s Monday and I woke up so excited to be on this podcast and to be talking about this and I had a meeting this morning with our two interns. I just love this stuff so I’m so excited. So any sort of social justice area I can see myself being involved in in the future. So I just love social work.

Dr. Jones: [00:19:59] Yeah that’s great. One of the things I really like about you is your sense of humor. And I think that’s probably when we talk about protective factors. You know I think sometimes in the face of trauma that people who have the ability to laugh at themselves or laugh at things. You know that’s helpful to them.

Josh: [00:20:18] Yeah.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:20] So I love that about you and before we went on air here you were talking about your completely prepared if you get into a rap battle.

Josh: [00:20:27] Yeah yeah.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:28] So let’s end our podcast with you telling our listeners about how you have prepared yourself for that if it comes along.

Josh: [00:20:35] Well, he asked me so I have two lines that I that I use if I ever catch myself in a rap battle. If you would like to hear them.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:45] Absolutely sure.

Josh: [00:20:46] And you’re familiar with Bono?

Dr. Jones: [00:20:47] Yeah

Josh: [00:20:48] OK that’s context. Yeah. So it’s first name Josh last name Nadzam you wouldn’t know what to do with skills if you had some. And then a second one is: Shine so bright make Bono wanna seeya – I make words buzz like onomatopoeia – and that’s all I got.

Dr. Jones: [00:21:05] I love that.

Josh: [00:21:06] So I just have those two lines just in case.

Dr. Jones: [00:21:09] Yeah. So how often do you get in rap battles is that like a daily thing.

Josh: [00:21:13] It hasn’t really happened yet. But I stay prepared you know fire extinguisher you’ve got to have that sure just in case.

Dr. Jones: [00:21:20] Sure. That’s giving me something to think about now. Another thing to worry about if I’m ever in a rap battle

Josh: [00:21:26] And Blake and Jones I mean you have endless possibilities to rhyme.

Dr. Jones: [00:21:29] Those are easy to rhyme aren’t they?

Josh: [00:21:30] Yeah

Dr. Jones: [00:21:31] Yeah yeah I’ll do some work on that later.

Josh: [00:21:33] Yeah yeah. There you go.

Dr. Jones: [00:21:37] Well I want to thank you for coming on the podcast, Josh. This has been great. If people want to reach you or reach on the move Art Studio how can they do that?

Josh: [00:21:46] There’s a few different ways. Of course we have our Facebook page on the move art studio. So you can send us a message there. You can go to our Web site www.onthemoveartstudio.org and check out our contact information or send us a message there or you can just email me personally my email is Josh Nadzam@gmail.com

Josh: [00:22:06] And I’d be happy to connect with anybody and really anybody listen to this. Obviously he shares a passion for social work so I’d love to connect with anybody and see how we can make this world just a little bit better.

Dr. Jones: [00:22:19] That’s great. Thanks for coming on

Josh: [00:22:21] Yeah, thanks for having me – thank you.

Dr. Jones: [00:22:25] You’ve been listening to the social work conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action

Announcer: [00:22:36] This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. Interim Dean and Bale and all the faculty and staff who support researching contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession hosted by Dr. Blake Jones produced by Jason Johnston. Thanks to our Webmaster Jordan Jones music McLaughlin to find out more about the UK the social work this podcast visit socialwork.uky.edu/podcast