Meet 2021 American Express NGen Award Finalist – Nick Monzi

Nick Monzi’s focus in on STEM and social-emotional achievement, and CEO & Co-Funder of Learn Fresh, he’s working to enhancing both for students through sports and entertainment.

He explained more about how his national education nonprofit worked with global corporations, leading urban school districts, and national and regional after-school program providers to develop the Learn Fresh community program model.

You’ll get to meet & hear Nick Monzi during his Upswell Summit Spotlight on Wednesday, October 20 at 12:15 – 12:30pm as part the Public Square networking session. Until then, you can learn a bit more about him below..

  • It’s been a particularly challenging couple of years. What has kept you grounded and whole in this time?

My family, in all aspects of that word, has been essential for sustaining me over the last few years. When faced with challenges in life, you quickly learn who you can count on to support and move forward with you. My wife has reminded me daily to take care of myself, while also taking care of our organization. Those reminders have been so needed for my own wellbeing, as I can easily over-engage in moments of adversity.

Nick Monzi

My teammates at Learn Fresh have been invaluable, as well. Every reason in the world existed for why we could have struggled through the pandemic, and instead we have significantly expanded the breadth and depth of our programs, increased the size and capacity of our team, and raised more philanthropic support than at any point in our history. They deserve much of the credit for moving forward in lockstep and committing to growth through adversity.

  • Who or what has been the biggest inspiration to your growth as a leader?

Our educators and students are my greatest inspiration. Even before the pandemic, they pursued the process of learning with a creative, persistent spirit that I believe is unmatched anywhere else in society. Today, they are more resolved to get back to the classroom than ever before. There are so many institutional, communal, and personal challenges that students and educators face, which complicate their work in ways that are either unavoidable or unnecessary. If they can continue to pursue education and personal growth, then I certainly can as well.

  • What attracted you to become involved in your organization’s mission?

As a child, sports were at the center of my universe. I recently found a drawing that I made in elementary school with my interests and hobbies, and I included almost nothing other than baseball and the New York Yankees. As I grew older, my interest in music performance was also strengthened and ultimately, I first began my work as an educator through performing arts nonprofits. By engaging in that part of the education sector, I developed an appreciation for learning that had real relevance for students and connected back to their lives outside of the classroom. Learn Fresh combines all of those unique identities and experiences into one organization that perfectly aligns with my own vision for education.

  • Upswell, a meeting ground for Independent Sector’s changemaker community, is focused on creating a healthy and racially equitable nation. How does this vision tie into your organization’s work?

The pursuit of racial and social equity is something for which every American needs to feel a responsibility. As citizens in an increasingly diversifying nation, we can all do more to understand the history of our communities, the current data that underscores existing inequities, and the ways in which we can contribute to effective drivers of progress. What is most important to describe about our team is that we have simply committed to never stop growing on this issue, both personally and through our work.

Ultimately, our programs have been rooted in the pursuit of educational equity since our founding. A strong majority of our educators, students, staff, and board represent communities of color across America, and we all bring lived experience to the work that informs how we build our programs and outreach to our communities. As we have gained experience ourselves, we have developed new programs to “pay it forward.” These include the Learn Fresh Fellowship for Culturally Inclusive Education, which serves as a vehicle for educators of color to build and scale curricula that reflect their personal experiences and expertise.

  • What attributes and perspectives do today’s emerging leaders bring to accelerating the sector’s work to address our nation’s challenges?

As a millennial, I have found that my class of emerging leaders brings a sense of empathy and social awareness to the sector that is unique and hopefully transformative for society. We have had to grow up through 9/11, prolonged war, an ongoing climate crisis, multiple economic collapses, the introduction of social media, a global pandemic, and ongoing social strife. Many of us have struggled with wealth generation and stabilizing our own futures as a result. These experiences have developed a greater appreciation for the power of community and have allowed us to be clear-eyed about where previous generations have succeeded and where they have failed. I feel confident in our ability to steer our nation in a better direction as we mature into positions of leadership and influence.

  • How would you challenge all of today’s changemakers to become more involved in building a healthier and more racially just nation where all can thrive?

My first challenge is to be observant and actively learn from those around you. Based on our own unique identities and experiences, we all have social challenges that we personally face. It is easy to disregard or disconnect from those of another group in society, when their areas of need or growth feel unrelated to your own. I have prioritized travel, both in the U.S. and abroad, throughout my young life, and I have repeatedly found that conversation, connection, and an openness to learning can be game-changing for our ability to authentically see one another.

Want to learn about our other 2021 American Express NGen Award finalists?

Learn about Richard Reyes, Alejandro Gibes de Gac, Kashif Shaikh, Andrew Plumley, Meghan Shea, and Maria Yuan, the 2021 American Express Leadership Award recipient.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Society, Community, Education, Equity, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion