When Zakeem Rutledge was growing up on Syracuse’s south side, Brady Faith Center was an integral part of his life. As a Brady kid, he participated in mass, Vacation Bible School, and their teen group. But, as he grew, his need for he and his mom to survive life on the South side of Syracuse, forced him to be a part of “street life” and he hustled when he could. In 2012, Zakeem was walking to the store and was shot in the lower back by a stray bullet meant for someone else. He was facing potential paralysis. He knew then that his life had to change for him and his mom. He received inspiration through a vision and through God’s voice: “That bullet wasn’t meant for me, but the message was. There is a lot of good coming my way. I am about to be blessed with a lot. For me it was God’s way of saying, you need to open your eyes. You are about to be blessed with a new life and not everybody can come with you”. In his recovery, Zakeem’s spirituality grew and knowing his life needed to change, he again leaned on the Brady Faith Center for guidance and support.
What began as giving back through community engagement by speaking on forgiveness and Christian leadership, performing and mentoring in Seeds for the Arts music program and committing to small jobs in the Center, Zakeem was given more and more responsibility, and when the Brady Market opened in the summer of 2021, Zakeem was front and center. He began doing maintenance and made his way quickly to the closing manager. Today, as assistant grocery manager, Zakeem’s role in the Brady and Syracuse community has come full circle. He works to serve, being a mentor and role model in order to support the Brady Market into success. Zakeem knows Brady Market as an extension of his family which gives him purpose and the feeling is mutual.
Due to his dedication, Zakeem has taken on more responsibility in the last 6 months and is excited about the future of the market. “I was able to plant the seed and watch it grow. I am one out of 10 of us who planted the seeds of Brady, drew the blueprint, to piggyback on one model and learn what we needed to do to be able to establish a similar program. I just want to see it grow- one store becoming two. Communities need the Brady community.” At the market you can find Zakeem procuring products, managing paperwork, assisting customers, frying fish dinners, giving tours and sharing his story.
Zakeem’s work at the market had not only helped to advance the market’s goals, but has supported him in accomplishing his own dreams. He has plans of finishing his degree, owning a home and eventually his own business. Brady Market has helped Zakeem hold himself accountable. He’s given his trust to Brady and in turn gains the trust of his community, making a difference here everyday.
Summer Programming- Azia
Years ago, while walking the streets with Father John, we visited with a neighbor in her late 50’s who joyfully shared us that she is a “Brady Kid.” Honestly, this is a common occurrence, neighbors sharing with pride that they participated in our summer programs when they were young. What a legacy Father Brady, Father John and numerous lay leaders in our community have left us that so many adults light up with joy and identify themselves through the memories of participating in Brady Faith Center youth and teens programs.
On another occasion, we visited with a grandmother, JoAnne Adjei who is a longstanding member of our community. During the conversation on the front steps of her home, she succinctly proclaimed to us our
Brady summer vision for the for the youth and teens on the Southwest side of Syracuse, “Get our kids off the streets, keep them safe and give them God.” The clarity and truth in her summer mission statement reminds me of the words of the prophet Rumi, “Your heart knows the way, run in that direction.” JoAnn’s heart knows the way of geographical safety and the importance of a faith-based community that is, “anchored in love, tethered to tenderness and not the least bit shaky about our unshakable goodness.” (Father Greg Boyle)
So we’ve been given the mission and vision – now we run in that direction.
We run in preparation for our 5-week Vacation Bible School (VBS) for youth from the ages of 5 to 12 and is assisted by teens who are graduates. Last year, 45 youth and teens participated in VBS. We run to a week-long basketball camp across the street at the Southwest Community Center run by Howard and Melvin Triche in honor of their mother Norma Triche. Youth ages 8 – 13 are mentored in life and receive skills in basketball. We run to a weeklong service immersion trip for Highschool age students whose lives are expanded by living together at DeWitt Community Church, doing six hours of service every day and participating in
community building and faith-based activities in the evenings that collectively transform both our hearts and our neighborhoods.
Azia Day has participated in VBS since she was 5 years old. This summer, she will offer
her gifts and talents as teen leader and attend Summer Servants for the second time.
Brady changes her geography, assists her family in keeping her safe, and together we grow a circle of compassion that gets wider and more inclusive one person at a time. Additionally, through our summer programming, Azia has awakened to the passionate and profound poet that lives inside her. This is one of the many ways that she shares her faith in God with us.