Dr Emad Rahim, Resilience & His Quest For The Soul Of Syracuse
Dr. Emad Rahim is probably one of the most accomplished people I’ve ever had the pleasure of interviewing, and he’s “kind of” from right here in central New York. His is an intriguing story, starting off in the killing fields of Cambodia, then a refugee camp in Thailand, eventually making it to Syracuse where he lived his adolescent and teen years within an abusive family and selling drugs to help support his family. Eventually he saw the light to a better life and now, after a high number of accomplishments, he’s back in Syracuse trying to help those who deserve to live a better life.
Let me throw out a few bonafides from his latest book Resilience:
Emad is a Fulbright Scholar, TEDx Speaker, writer for Forbes and CEO Magazine, featured in Huffington Post, WorldClass Magazine and Syracuse.com (they beat me to it lol), Kotouc Endowed Chair at the Project Management Center of Excellence and an associate professor at Bellevue University, earned his doctorate via SUNY Empire State College with credits from Harvard, Tulane and Maryland/UC. He’s also served as a Dean for many universities across the country.
Trust me, there’s a lot more, but if I type it all we’ll never get to the interview. Let’s get started:
1. To prove you’re from Syracuse, name 3 things you like from your past here.
As a kid, my favorite memories were skipping class at Grant Middle School to play video games at Buttons Arcade on the north side, Friday nights at Dance and Skate and teen nights at the Country Club.
2. How did Syracuse University miss having you as a student?
I earned my diploma from Fowler High School through the Occupational Learning Center (OLC), which focused more on teaching us vocational skills at Central Tech. I had a learning disability that negatively impacted my writing, spelling, math and testing abilities. I barely graduated school and was not aware of entrance exams like the SAT or was equipped to complete a college application without adult assistance. A school as prestigious as Syracuse University seemed out of reach for me and my peers.
Those that graduated, were either going to community college or was trying to secure a full time job. In addition, I was the oldest in my family and was responsible for helping my mother and siblings. I ended up going to Onondaga Community College (OCC), and worked multiple jobs in the evening and weekends to help my family. OCC provided me with a great education and the opportunity to find myself.
3. Let’s talk about the book. It’s a mixture of stories from your past and lessons that help explain the SALT principle. Who came up with that as an idea, you or Dr. Casey?
Dr. Casey Reason and I came up with the SALT model together. I spent a few days at his house in Prescott Arizona to design the layout of the book. Casey had written dozens of leadership books and was an award-winning author. After we had worked out the different type of stories that will be included in the book, Casey developed a storyboard to organize all of the content. Based on the topics covered and transition of the stories, and being a Syracuse native, the SALT model was born.
4. Many people living in this area believe that Syracuse gangs aren’t really gangs, because they try to compare them to those in larger cities. Is it a different structure or the same structure but on a smaller scale?
We have/had real gangs here for many years. When I grew up many of the gangs were connected to different housing projects in the city. When I was in high school certain neighborhoods and city blocks started associating themselves with gang names and connections. In addition to the local gangs, we have/had Latin Kings, Bloods and Crips. I went to school with a lot of them.
We also have a Gang Violence Task Force, and in 2003 the RICO Act was used to indict several local gang members in the city. If you know anything about the RICO Act it is used to do after organized crime, which was initially developed for the Mafia. So, I don’t think it’s a different structure or scale. Gun shootings, murders and robberies are all terrible crimes. While gang culture plays a role in them, I believe things like poverty, drug abuse, and the lack of education, opportunities and the support of loving parents play a larger role in our problems with violence.
5. You got some tough love from a couple of people who supported you and convinced you to change your ways. Why do you think they were drawn to help you, and are they still around?
I am unsure why certain people decided to be my mentor, but as a young adult I knew that modesty and honesty was key to securing professional mentors. I would attend different events and functions in my early 20s and made it my job to learn about people, not what they did for a living. I would work the room, and try to find opportunities to add value to a conversation or solution to a problem. These types of interactions got me invited to private conversations with people that eventually become my mentors and coaches.
As a kid, I had a hot temper and got into a lot of trouble. Will Dowdell, a former administer at Fowler High School, took upon himself to mentor me and became my father figure. I learned what it took to be a man through him. He is still in my life today. Mr. Dowdell somehow saw potential in me and pushed me to succeed.
6. When you decided you were ready for a change, what steps did you take to begin the metamorphosis?
I developed a career plan that included the need for a college degree, developing new skills, obtaining more professional experience and growing my network. As my career aspirations change, my plan gets modified. But, the foundation stays the same. As I got more education and new experiences, my network and skills grew. I started to travel more, became more cultured and my professional network pool evolved. This also impacted my self-esteem, self-confidence and leadership skills. The more I learned, the more ambitious and curious you became.
7. Can you briefly explain SALT for the readers and how you came to designate what the “L” stood for?
The SALT model of Surviving, Adapting, Loving and Transforming was used to help me overcome the adversities that I faced in my life. Love to me is the most important model because we often overlook the power and need of Love. We take it for granted. Surrounding yourself with people that truly love and care about you is critical for success.
When we think of successful people that we admire, we often overlook the friends and family members that are there supporting them throughout their careers. We also don’t realize that developing and growing Love takes hard work. We want Love unconditionally, but often don’t express it that way with others.
8. What are the 3 top challenges you believe the city needs to address to reduce the poverty and get people moving forward again?
1. We need to improve public school education and deal with school bullying and drop-out rates
2. Create job diversity that starts in high school and turns into career opportunities after graduating
3. Having more community programs that bring people together and are affordable to the public: after-school, internships, family events, festivals, arts exhibition, health programs, etc.
9. You started from a background worse than most Americans could have ever conceived and have ended up achieving so much. Do you feel destined for success or do you see some of this as a path that anyone can achieve with a bit of perseverance and belief in oneself?
My past makes me humble and grateful. I could have been this angry kid that turned into an angry man, and blame everyone for my situation. But, I came to realize that my childhood experience helped to make me the man that I am today. This is why I believe everyone has the ability to achieve greatness. I am great example of this.
10. Your turn; what would you like to share about you, about your books, how to contact you, about Syracuse and your favorite movie of all time?
Here are some links to connect and learn about my work:
Blog Content: http://www.intelligenthq.com/emad-rahim/
Thanks to Dr. Emad Rahim for this interview; lunch is on him! 🙂 BTW, this post contains affiliate links.