Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- A 20-year-old Syracuse man considers himself a victim of gun violence and has his own idea of how to prevent further bloodshed.
In a culture of an eye-for-an-eye, Zakeem Rutledge is encouraging his family and friends not to seek revenge on his behalf.
Rutledge says he was walking to the grocery store on a Sunday evening in March when he found himself caught between drive-by shooters and the person they were aiming for.
“I didn’t feel it. It happened fast. I went into shock and fell. I tried to get up, but I realized I couldn’t move my legs,” he told NewsChannel 9.
Rutledge was shot twice in the lower back, paralyzing him from the waist down. Only after months of therapy is he able to walk again, but still has no feeling in his right foot.
To those affiliated with Syracuse gangs, normally this would warrant revenge.
“When this first happened to me, I got phone calls from friends and family asking me, 'what should I do?' and what I wanted them to do. I told them no, don’t do nothing,” Rutledge said.
Looking to his religion, he decided to choose forgiveness over retaliation.
“If you can’t forgive, there’s no moving forward. You’ve got to forgive in order to move forward and keep going,” he said.
And though he’s moving forward more slowly than he did before, he has friends at the Brady Faith Center to lean on.
Kevin Frank is helping Rutledge spread his message to end the cycle of revenge to kids in their community so "that there [won't] be a continuation of violence and suffering and pain that tears apart families."
"What a witness, what an incredible light for all of us,” Frank said.
Rutledge now focuses his energy not on violence, but on painting, music and poetry.
Rutledge is now an art major at Onondaga Community College and hopes to one day open a business on the South West Side that will help serve his community.