Hasan Stephens is the founder and CEO of the Good Life Philanthropic Youth Foundation, which aims to end the cycles of youth poverty, incarceration, recidivism and violence through hip-hop pedagogy and entrepreneurship by working with the highest risk youth, primarily ages 13-24. The Good Life works with youth within the juvenile justice system, schools and community. Stephens is also an adjunct professor at SUNY Cortland where he teaches “Evolution of Hip-Hop Culture.” Additionally, he is a leadership consultant for the Central New York Community Foundation, Inc.’s The Leadership Classroom. He currently serves on the boards of the Upstate Minority Economic Alliance (UMEA), and the Redlich Horwitz Foundation in New York, NY focused on the foster care system. He is also a member of the Madden School of Business Advisory Board at Le Moyne College and serves as an entrepreneur in residence for the Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship. He lives in Clay.
Were you born and raised in CNY?
[I was] born in the Bronx. I came to upstate NY to go to college at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva. Upon graduation, I came to Syracuse to work for a career as “DJ Maestro,” a radio personality with Clear Channel Communications (Power 106.9 FM and Hot 107.9 FM), now known as iHeartMedia, Inc. I also worked at News Channel 9 where I did a segment called “Coming Together for a Safer Syracuse,” which later was nominated for an Emmy award. More recently, I was the official DJ for Syracuse University (“New York’s College Team”) basketball and athletics. I have also worked at MTV and made national appearances as a guest host on BET’s “Rap City.”
Why do you choose to stay and make your home here?
I stay here because it’s a great place to establish yourself financially and raise kids, if you know how to do so. NYC is a great place to visit, but it is too dirty and crowded for me to return. I’ve also fallen in love with Central New York.
What does your “good life” look like and how does CNY play a role?
A good life to me means helping others realize how to gain access to wealth and opportunity here. While Central New York is home to some of the poorest populations in the country, it’s also beginning to boom with opportunity. I see my job as helping to connect those people to the opportunities.
What do you like most about living here?
The city is not too small and not too big. You are just one person removed from the decision makers and leaders that make things happen. Leveraging that can give you the opportunity to make change as you envision.
What makes CNY different from other places you’ve lived?
I come from the Big City. Central New York is much smaller and quieter. I don’t feel like I have to be on guard all the time. Many people comment about the aggressive and defensive attitude that most New Yorkers have. That is usually because the environment calls for it as a defense mechanism. Here, you can get ahead with the aggressive and ambitious attitude of the city, but without having to defend oneself from the hostile environment.
How would you spend a day off in the area?
To be honest, I enjoy looking at the scenery and the lakes. Upstate is home to some of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Enjoying the sun and kicking back with family for the single whole month of heat that we get to enjoy. (laughs)
Go-to place to eat?
First place you take out-of-town friends or family?
Jus Sum Jazz Lounge or Salt City Market.
Favorite way to take advantage of our beautiful outdoors?
Hiking at Highland Forest or Buttermilk Falls.
A place or business you think is underrated or under-discovered?
Jus Sum Jazz Lounge
Favorite memory related to living in CNY?
Throwing concerts at the War Memorial back when I was on the radio as DJ Maestro.
How would you describe CNY in a few words?
Potential for growth.
What do you think we take for granted here?
Each other. Because it’s a small city, people compete instead of working together to have more.
Best way to get to know the area better?
Visit the parks, the inner city and the suburbs to gain contrast and perspective of the disparities.
Myth about CNY and Upstate you’d like to dispel?
Dispel the myth that we have to compete because of limited resources or that there can only be one of a kind in a particular industry or pathway. No one in the world does that. It’s why McDonalds and Burger King can exist to cater to the same customer.
What do you think people outside of CNY should know about living here?
People should know that they can have a real chance at growing their lives here in the center of the state. It’s close enough to NYC and other places to visit, but perfect to live in because of the cost of living.
You can live your best life in Central New York too!
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