Dr. Juhanna Rogers
Dr. Juhanna Rogers is the vice president of racial equity & social impact at CenterState CEO. Her company, Juhanna Rogers, Inc., created “Behind the Woman” airing on WCNY, which shares the stories of diverse women leaders, and she is the host. Rogers is passionate about performing; she is currently a member of the Harriet Tubman Troupe, a community theater troupe associated with Auburn Public Theater. In late 2020, she performed at Syracuse Stage with the troupe in “A Gatherin’ Place,” which she wrote, directed and produced. She lives in Downtown Syracuse.
Were you born and raised in CNY?
I grew up in Jersey. The beautiful thing is that [Syracuse] has been a space in which I’ve gotten access to the things you need to build your life as a young, diverse professional and to set you up to be successful. I found a job, two positions, here that have helped me really address systemic change, social justice, equity on a number of levels. I’ve been able to weave my commitment to these issues into my professional and creative works. I feel like there is impact in a city and region that’s small but big enough, that’s relevant. So I’m super excited about that and that’s why I’m here. Because there aren’t a lot of spaces and places as an early to mid-career professional person, especially coming out of [academia] that you can come into a city and just be able to be immediately jump in and [be] part of leadership conversations. And I find that here to a degree, so here I am. I think the region, I'm coming to appreciate it more and more.
Why do you choose to stay and make your home here?
It’s a great location. I think CNY is a space to spread your wings and see or do something different.
I’m very excited about just trying new things. I would definitely prefer the beach and the sun, to be totally honest, but I am doing some things that I’ve dreamed of doing all my life here. I have relationships and they’re wonderful ones helping me grow as a young professional, as a younger woman. That is a huge part of development. Mentoring relationships, a network of care, and that became more apparent this past December. I was battling COVID right before the holidays and… the folks that I have… in this community, despite the conditions, made sure that I was ok [and] left food and Christmas presents on my door. It’s the support.
What does your “good life” look like and how does CNY play a role?
My good life has more economic opportunities for black and brown people who’ve been here for generations. They have not been given access to the same opportunities to be employed [or] access to promotions and pipelines that would empower them economically. If that were done, the beauty of this city could be felt in a more eclectic way. When I think of a good life: I envision a more lively social scene that has eclectic artists, shows, and gatherings that reflect the people of the community. I envision events all over the city, including downtown, that come through and make you feel like, yes, you belong in the theater, you belong in the restaurant, and this café. My good life would be me and the friends I’ve made here having access to home ownership and creating a diverse neighborhood. There’s restaurants downtown… that reflect us. I always imagine I’m going to have this house here near a body of water and I’ll have a summer family gathering there and a holiday gathering. That’s my thing and I think it can happen.
I've lived in a lot of spaces for different periods of time and not only in the United States, but internationally as well, and one of the beautiful things that I think about Syracuse or Central New York that we’re undervaluing is the diverse representation of people from all over the world that live here. If we were able to help them out, there’s restaurants on Salina street, from top to bottom with foods from all over the world. I feel like this could be the cultural mecca of the center of the state
I think the beautiful thing about Syracuse is that we have it, if we leverage it properly and think innovatively about how to generate economic opportunities for these different populations of people in a way that’s culturally affirming, that celebrates who they are, takes into consideration the nuances of their lives and existence and give them the tools and support network in an ecosystem to help cultivate those things — oh my God, why would you want to live anywhere else? And you can get to the airport and get on a flight in a short period of time. These things would make a Great Life, not just a good one!
What do you like most about living here?
It’s easy to navigate, there’s no traffic. The diversity and access to different cities. To establish that work-life balance, it’s easy to do in a space where you’re in an urban center but you’re 10 minutes in any direction to a body of water.
One of my favorite things about living here is probably the apartment that I live in (on the 12th floor). Part of the reason I love it so much is because my friends will tell me ‘you live in the clouds’. [I] wake up in the morning and it’s like [living] in the clouds. It's peaceful and serene and it's very reflective for me.
What makes CNY different from other places you’ve lived?
All the snow. I don’t know, that’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that because quite candidly I haven’t been a professional in every other city that I lived in; I was a graduate student or a student or I was at home. So that’s why getting my start here has been really pivotal, but I do believe in some regards that the way in which there’s accessible opportunities to engage in conversations that are critical to the development of the community, you really feel connected to the issues.
How would you spend a day off in the area?
I go out to some of the lakes. I may drive out to lunch in Cazenovia, Skaneateles, or Aurora and relax near the water a bit. Before Covid, I would drive to Canada and explore or take in a show at Auburn Public Theater, Syracuse Stage or Redhouse.
Go-to place to eat?
Salt City Market. Some of the places in there, Soulutions, Miss Prissy’s, Erma’s Island.
First place you take out-of-town friends or family?
I would say Auburn because we do the Harriet Tubman tour. We’ll stop at the theater there, drive back through Skaneateles and see the Finger Lakes. My mom likes to come up in July; JAMS, a celebration of Black music, holds an outdoor concert at one of the local beaches. If I have time, we go up to the Thousand Islands. That blows their mind; they’ll say, “You all have some beautiful living up here.” However, it’s not always inclusive. It’s not a sweet treat all the time, but I think just the natural beauty of some of these places is so amazing. And I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to see them.
Fall. The summer is great but the way the colors come alive in the fall is truly magical. I just will drive for miles. And it’s just pretty.
Favorite way to take advantage of our beautiful outdoors?
The waterways! My son and I will go up to Lake Ontario and just walk the shoreline. Cayuga Lake, I discovered that and it’s just breathtaking. The St. Lawrence River. Just the water in this area is unbelievable. In the evenings, I will stroll Green Lakes or Onondaga Lake, they’re doing so much there. My goal this year is to do more hiking and see Lake Placid. I want to see the Adirondacks.
A place or business you think is underrated or under-discovered?
There are many Black owned businesses in this community that aren’t widely supported. I couldn’t name just one. However, there are a wealth of talented consultants and service providers. My goal is to support as many of them as possible.
Favorite memory related to living in CNY?
I think some of the CNY Roots brunches. The first one we did was very memorable for me and a huge spark to seeing talent and diverse professionals differently. I miss those brunches. We brought so many diverse professional faces together in that room. And it was just one of those things when you begin to see where you live differently.
I mean, launching Behind the Woman with WCNY is a lifelong dream and one I will never forget. I think it really challenged people’s perceptions of who’s here and what talent exists.
Another memorable experience is performing, writing, and directing shows (“A Gatherin’ Place”), that started at Auburn Public Theater and doing “For Colored Girls” (“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf”) there. Being a part of the Harriet Tubman Troupe and having that show open at Syracuse Stage as a follow-up to that experience is just another major life accomplishment. In the middle of a pandemic! Oh my gosh, putting that together was amazing and crazy and demanding on so many levels. But those are the things I think about when I think about being here and living here that are near and dear to my heart.
How would you describe CNY in a few words?
An underrated city with massive potential.
What do you think we take for granted here?
Potential and the diverse community that exists here and the way in which they could help think about leading us forward. I think that is a major untapped resource.
Best way to get to know the area better?
Probably just getting out and exploring, sometimes without invitation. I think that has been the best thing for me. As a result, I feel like I’m getting to share these experiences with people who have lived here 100 years and inspire them to try new places.
Myth about CNY or Upstate you’d like to dispel?
[That] there's nothing here. There’s a lot here. It's not just snow. That would be my tagline if I had to write a book about Central NY.
What do you think people outside of CNY should know about living here?
It's more than just snow. There are a lot of great places to tell terrific stories. And doing it in a space culturally that is so representative of problematic racial pasts, thinking about Harriet Tubman’s home not being far from here and the Haudenosaunee and Onondaga Nation. Those folks being here and such rich histories that could be told from so many perspectives and how do we make that happen? I think for folks that are cultural enthusiasts or curators, there’s so much here that’s untapped waiting to be discovered, or [have a] light shone on them. There’s a lot here and a lot of histories.
You can live your best life in Central New York too!
View the many job opportunities available today