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🗣 Locals to Know: Meet Ja’Sonta Roberts, educator and rock star

Ja'Sonta Roberts, with voluminous dark hair and a small nosering.

We’ve got lots of amazing out-of-school educators doing really important work here in Pittsburgh. One such Local to Know is Ja’Sonta Roberts, Assemble’s Off-Site Programs Manager and also a gifted vocalist who sings with Pittsburgh Black Rock act Royce. Without further ado, let’s meet Ja’Sonta and learn more about where she works and plays here in the ’Burgh.

Hi, Ja’Sonta! Tell our readers who you are and what you do.

I am the Off-Site Programs Manager at Assemble. I contract and curate programs that focus on hands-on STEAM activities that encompass inclusive and culturally responsive education in the surrounding Greater Pittsburgh area for school districts, community organizations, and community events/workshops.

Wax poetic for a second and tell us: what brings you most alive about this city?

What brings me most alive is the awakening climate of change that is happening in Pittsburgh, from the arts to education and innovation. Contributors of color are being recognized more every day for their accomplishments, [as are] the histories of those that have carved the pathway for all of us that came behind their great minds.

What’s your favorite Pittsburgh memory?

I would have to say that my favorite Pittsburgh memory thus far is actually two different ones. The first was music related. The band I’m in, Royce, was given the opportunity to open up for music legends Midnight Star at Hartwood Acres. Walking out to a sea of people so vast that you couldn’t even see the grass with people all the way back to the parking area was amazing. The energy they gave us and the uproarious applause fed my soul. It’s hard to feel seen as a Black-led, rock-heavy Hip Hop fusion band, especially when you are playing all original music. That crowd of over 2,500 definitely showed us love, as did Midnight Star after our set. 

The other would be seeing our city come together and elect our first Black mayor [Ed Gainey]. This is just a step, yet now all the work that those have been doing behind the scenes over the years like POISE [Foundation], Three Rivers Youth, The Pittsburgh Foundation, Amachi, BTAN (of which I have been a proud board member) and many more can gain more momentum, hopefully, with minority-represented leadership like [that of] Mayor Gainey. There’s lots of work to do still, but I’m proud of my city for this step forward.

Ja'Sonta Roberts holds a microphone on a purple-lit stage.
©First Angel Media

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Ugghhh, That’s a hard one. I honestly prefer to cook at home. I know my way around the kitchen. However, If I had to choose, a go-to favorite is People’s Indian in Garfield. I love their chicken tikka masala, aloo gobi, and samosas, yum.

Outside of the obvious stop above, share your other top three destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Pittsburgh day.

Well, if you want to talk “real” Pittsburgh spots, I have to shout out the Genuine Pub in Verona. Twan Moore has it locked all the way down on the wings and fresh-cut fries, and every Tuesday they have amazing live jazz featuring some of the ’Burgh’s music legends.  When I feel nostalgic for my college days, I will grab my sweetie and head out to Fuel and Fuddle in Oakland and grab a bite and then a stroll through Phipps (psst, we have a lock on the bridge). My favorite place to visit to clear my mind and take things in is the Carnegie Museums. I love catching the new exhibits and appreciating all the amazing histories both artistic and natural in our world. My amazing supervisor, who knew of my passion for the museum, gave me a membership as a birthday gift so that I can go anytime I want. Thank you, Nina!

How does Pittsburgh help you do what you do/influence your work?

Pittsburgh is my home. All of my experience and points of reference are influenced by the city I live in. I wanted to be the youth advocate that I didn’t have. Pittsburgh a city that is striving to change its image and truly become the most livable city for “All” and that means caring for it’s youth and young people. I have received a lot of support from other like-minded professionals, community members, and change makers. We all have a love and appreciation for this ever-growing metropolis. Pittsburgh is unique as are the people that live here, whether a native born or a transplant this city leaves something with you and pushes me to want to do more for it. 

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about the city?

I would probably have to say that Pittsburgh has a duality that some don’t see: one Pittsburgh for white residents and one for people of color. I can’t say how “unpopular” it is because quite a few folks that navigate within my circles both professionally and personally would agree. I think that this idea has risen to the surface and that moves are being made to even the playing field. More businesses are enacting more equitable hiring.

What are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m really looking forward to all of the great school year programming that we are about to venture into at Assemble. There are so many kiddos that can really benefit from the STEAM programming we offer. I’m also very excited about getting as many opportunities as possible to get my band Royce on the larger stages here in Pittsburgh. It’s very difficult to work with certain venues to get booked for large shows as not only a local band but a Black-led rock heavy fusion band. I have to send shout outs to Graham at the Greer [Cabaret Theater]; Tori and André at Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership; and Cody Waters, Stevie Wellons, Paradise Grey, and Liz Berlin at Mr. Smalls for believing in me, the band, and all the work we are trying to put in for our city. I look forward to working with them all again this year and many to come.

Follow Assemble and Royce on Instagram and elsewhere.

Know of a person or organization that we ought to feature? Send us an email to hello@theincline with the subject line “Incline Locals to Know,” and you could see their name in an upcoming newsletter!