Dr. Emad Rahim
Emad Rahim, Ph.D., serves as the Kotouc Family Endowed Chair and Professor at Bellevue University. He also operates Inclusive 360 LLC., a management consulting firm. Rahim is on the board of directors at CNY Community Foundation, the Good Life Youth Foundation, Onondaga Community College Scholarship Foundation, Upstate Minority Economic Alliance, Strathmore Neighborhood Association and Syracuse Neighborhood Model Corporation. He sits on the advisory committees of 100 Black Men, Vera House Inc., South Side Innovation Center, Syracuse City School District, YWCA of Onondaga and the Onondaga County Democratic Committee. Dr. Rahim lives on the Westside of Syracuse.
Were you born and raised in CNY?
No, my family and I arrived in Syracuse as refugees in the early ‘80s; we are survivors of the Cambodian Killing Fields. We were forced to live in a concentration camp in Cambodia, escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand, and eventually [were] sponsored to come to America by Catholic Charities and with the support of several American families. We also lived in Brooklyn and Long Beach, California for a short period of time.
Why do you choose to stay and make your home here?
We have roots and history here in Syracuse. We moved to Chicago in 2011 and came back in 2014. Living in Chicago was amazing. It’s a large, energetic and diverse community. My second daughter was born in Chicago, but it was still not home for us. In Chicago, I spent over an hour each way driving my daughter to a private school because two of the three public schools in our neighborhood were slated to be closed for poor performance. The third admitted students only by a lottery. Some days we would spend three to four hours in a car due to traffic. By the time we arrived back home together, it was very late in the evening and there was only time for dinner and homework before bed. Also, the cost of living in Chicago made it hard for us to save for our future goals and to purchase a house. All these factors, [combined] with my demanding work obligations and traveling schedule to multiple college campuses across the country each month, tipped the scales and made us want to come back home to Syracuse.
What does your “good life” look like and how does CNY play a role?
Spending quality time with my family and friends. Here in Syracuse, I work remote and control my own time and schedule. I have the flexibility to do those things I love the most, while still having time to give back to my community by volunteering and supporting local initiatives. We operate two businesses, own a home, and serve on multiple nonprofit boards. Syracuse’s relatively mellow pace and lower cost of living has afforded us these luxuries. I couldn’t do these things or grow my business in Chicago or New York City.
What do you like most about living here?
Attending the Jazz Fest, NYS Fair, Taste of Syracuse, Winterfest, and Syracuse University games. Supporting annual fundraisers and events hosted by the Good Time Gangs (Seersuckers, Cigars and Sundresses), Vera House Inc. (White Ribbon Campaign), 100 Black Men (Annual Banquet), On Point for College (Awards Banquet) and the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Conference in Albany. Hosting barbecues, neighborhood gatherings, political meetings and professional meetups in our backyard during the summer. Going fishing in Cazenovia, Oswego, Jamesville and Baldwinsville, and hiking at Beaver Lake and Baltimore Woods. Having the flexibility to drive to Rochester and Ithaca on a weekday to enjoy new scenery or spend the weekend in Buffalo, Albany or New York City to get away. Syracuse’s proximity to these cities makes this possible.
What makes CNY different from other places you’ve lived?
As Cambodians refugees, we found refuge in Syracuse: strangers knocking on our doors bearing gifts during the holidays, boxes filled with new clothes and school supplies from the Salvation Army and local churches. My mother’s best friend was from Ukraine, my childhood friend [was] an African American, and our neighbors — a biker family that loved Bon Jovi, Harleys, beer and picnics. [The] Lodi and Butternut neighborhood was a melting pot of Italians, Vietnamese, Puerto Ricans, Hmong, Laos and Cambodians. This is why Syracuse is so special to us and why we consider it home regardless of where we have lived.
How would you spend a day off in the area?
Grab a cup of coffee from Recess in Tipp Hill, fresh bread or [a] pastry from Pasta’s Daily Bread, go for a walk in the Westcott area or Onondaga Lake Park with my wife, spend some time in Eastwood at Books End or Books & Melodies, the used bookstores on James Street and end the evening by having dinner downtown or seeing a movie at the Movie Tavern.
Go-to place to eat?
The All Night Eggplant in East Syracuse for breakfast, Oh My Darling in Syracuse for dinner, China Pavilion on W. Genesee Street for Dim Sum on Sundays and Jerk Hut Restaurant on South Avenue for takeout.
First place you take out-of-town friends or family?
Armory Square where we would have breakfast at Funk ‘n Waffles, take the kids to the MOST, have coffee at Recess or Café Kubal, hit local shops like Sound Garden, Wildflowers Armory, Gypsy Freedom and Scholars & Champs, have lunch at Pastabilities, see a show at the Landmark Theatre or the Redhouse Arts Center and have dinner at Oh My Darling or Otro Cinco.
Spring and summer, [I’d] combine both since our summers are so short.
Favorite way to take advantage of our beautiful outdoors?
Onondaga Lake Park, where we would take the kids bike riding, roller blading or walk around the lake trail, have a picnic in the park and let the kids enjoy the playground or fly a kite.
A place or business you think is underrated or under-discovered?
Safiyyah's Styles on North Salina Street in Syracuse. The store carries internationally inspired selection, including apparel, accessories, home goods and beauty products. North Salina Street is a gem full of ethnic grocery stories, black owned businesses, coffee shops, and Italian, Ethiopian and Asian restaurants.
Favorite memory related to living in CNY?
Going to see Poor Righteous Teachers in concert at Syracuse University’s Schine Student Center. We arrived early, where I discovered members of the rap band hanging out playing pool in the student lounge area. We spent over an hour playing pool with Wise Intelligent, Culture Freedom and Father Shaheed and talking politics and hip-hop with them.
How would you describe CNY in a few words?
A community that is rich with diversity, tolerance and faith. Families from different ethnicities, religions and cultures supporting each other and celebrating their differences together.
What do you think we take for granted here?
I think we take a lot for granted, but it’s only natural. We must live somewhere else for a period of time to truly understand what we miss most about a place. I find things and people are more accessible here in Syracuse than in other cities that I have visited or lived. I don’t spend hours in traffic, wait long lines to get groceries, and don’t have to plan out my day to take the family out.
Best way to get to know the area better?
Walk or bike ride in different neighborhoods. Spend time at the local libraries, art galleries, parks, theaters, cafes and local shops to hear and see what people are doing and discussing about their communities.
Myth about CNY or Upstate you’d like to dispel?
We focus too much on the “brain drain” problem here in Upstate NY. We don’t talk about all of the people who have moved back to Syracuse to raise their family. People who grew up here, went off to college and started a career in a different city or state, then made the decision to move back to Central New York to purchase a house and raise their new family here. Every city across the country will have a population of young people that will leave to experience something different from home. This is natural. Syracuse is a very different city from what it was just ten years ago. Being in the entrepreneurship space and in my work with different universities, I have seen more startup companies and tech ventures establishing themselves in the city and new small businesses, restaurants, cooperative services, and social entrepreneurship initiatives emerging and thriving here in Syracuse. We are no longer the rust belt city we once were.
What do you think people outside of CNY should know about living here?
Our city has a rich history of diversity and tolerance. A city that not only embraced change during challenging times but was at the forefront of change — in economic reform, school policy, community development, law enforcement and in addressing public service needs. But, Syracuse is not perfect. We have real problems that must be faced head on. Please know there are hundreds of people and organizations working together to face these challenges that are united in helping to make our city a better place for everyone.
You can live your best life in Central New York too!
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