From the Bottom I Shall Rise
By Zakeem Rutledge
As a young kid, I often felt like I was just born and already having to feel, swallow and go through a lot of pain. I didn’t have any mentors or role models in my neighborhood, nothing positive for me to get involved with – I had to find it on my own. At the age of seven, my best friend died from an asthma attack, and soon after my grandmom died. At the age of 11, I was robbed, an experience that left me wondering why someone would do that to me. I felt unprotected and unsafe in my world. I was aware of what was happening on the street. I would hear drive-bys; I would notice unfamiliar cars parked on the street that didn’t look right. So I went to people on the street looking for protection. I figured since I didn’t have any older brothers to protect me, maybe the streets could offer me that.
At age 13 I started hustling some types of drugs only to have my house robbed the next year. Enough was enough. I knew I had to get out of it, and I did, but not fully. In high school I was still hanging with a crowd of people that was causing a lot of pain. There was fighting everyday after school, and a lot of people were getting kicked out. I recognized that the more pain I was a part of, the more it would come back to me. So to stay in school, I changed lanes and started to do more productive activities, like pursuing art and music. I graduated high school in 2010 and it felt like an honor. The next year, I went to OCC and that showed me a whole different atmosphere and environment that felt peaceful to me. And to keep it real, I also enjoyed meeting new female friends.
During my second semester at OCC on March 19th, 2012, I was shot, caught in the way of a bullet in the streets, and was paralyzed from my waist down. This left me broken and devastated. I felt like everything was over. Done. In my pain, I wanted revenge. But then I began to see another way. My cousin and my mom were always by my side, remaining positive. While I was in a hospital in Rochester I was given a large card with signatures from fellow students telling me to get well. Brady Faith was there for me too whenever I needed company. They brought hope and the faith to get through it. All of this positive motivation gave me the fight to keep going and not give up.
Soon after, I forgave those who shot me, realizing that revenge would always keep me looking backwards in fear. Forgiveness frees me to move forward in life and show people no matter how hard life gets, we can get up and keep going.
As an insider in my neighborhood, I have a different vision than those who are outsiders. People have a lot of pain and trauma in their lives and we struggle with being strong. No one can be strong forever. When we can’t deal with our pain anymore, we give up, we lose hope and that circles back to being a statistic to the system. You get a felony, spend time incarcerated, and when you’re out you want to turn your life around but there’s no work and no spark to give you the structure and stability. People go from place to place, and everywhere they are shut down, so they give up right then and there – and it’s a revolving door back to the lack of faith and the next thing you know you’re incarcerated again.
So where’s the hope? Most people lose it because there’s nothing here to give you hope. I’m called to be a leader in my community through the example of my life. I went through what others are going through and because I got up and kept moving forward, they can too. With Brady as my family and support I can live out my dreams as a motivational speaker, musician, multi-faceted artist, actor, entrepreneur and so much more. The best thing about Brady is that they are there for you, no matter where you are. They always offer the love and support you need.