Alumni Spotlight: Ali Knight (MPA 2007)

Ali Knight

When Ali Knight (MPA 2007) stepped into the role of CEO at Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) in the summer of 2020, he was stepping into a leadership position during a time of momentous change. Not only was he filling the role held by the organization’s founder for 20 years prior, he was also overseeing the implementation of a new strategic plan--all while facing a global pandemic. Despite these potential challenges, Knight’s personal and professional experiences have set him up as the ideal change-agent to oversee FLY’s many present transitions. Through his professional journey, Knight has developed a belief system as a leader that relies on an equity lens, risk-taking grounded in doing what is right, and balancing the urgency of social problems with the need for long-term solutions. This belief system, coupled with his desire to create systemic change to better the lives of young people, has already helped him step seamlessly into the role of CEO, guiding FLY through the pandemic and the racial justice reckoning the U.S. continues to face.

When asked about his transition to CEO, Knight focused on the change that he’s hoping to guide the organization though:

“FLY is in the midst of evolving from an organization that's about service for some, to one focused on justice for all. In the 20 years that FLY has been around, we’ve helped about 30,000 young people exit the prison pipeline. Now, in about half that time, we're going to help 30,000 more through our Imagine 2030 strategic plan. However, even 60,000 young people served is not justice to us--we're still living in a time where almost 2,000 young people are arrested every day in this country. For some, the outcome is worse than getting arrested. Just think about it--in the time that Derek Chauvin was tried and convicted for George Floyd’s murder, less than a month, almost 70 people were shot by police in this country. Most were Black and brown youth and many were young people. So we have a lot of work to do.

While Knight’s personal and professional experiences have influenced his leadership style, he also acknowledges that his time at Wagner--both in and out of the classroom--helped set him up for success:

“Wagner prepared me to be the leader that I am today. My time at Wagner helped solidify my management skills, which has served as the foundation for my leadership style. Wagner taught me everything from how to read financial statements to how to lead an effective team. Both skills are incredibly useful and have been applied in the last year as we've navigated the uncertainty and unprecedented nature of the times. The other amazing thing about Wagner was that it gave me the chance to build my network. Having a community of folks who understand the Wagner mentality and have a similar practical approach to their work has had a huge impact on me.”

As our present historical moment has necessitated a focus on innovation and responsiveness, Knight is excited to use this time as a jumping off point for change, creating an environment and community that can help young people thrive:

“I couldn't be more excited to lead this work in the current moment--looking at how we live in a post-COVID world. This is an opportunity to do something different and to be different. We don't want to go back to the old normal. I'm excited about navigating these uncertain times to come out bigger, better, stronger, and more just and equitable.”

To learn more about FLY, visit the organization’s website.