Bridging the Years

Bridging the Years
Davy Parrish and Nemiah Rutledge

Nemiah Rutledge was seven years old when he came to The Bridge of Northeast Florida, Inc. in 1998.  The Bridge was founded in 1982 by a group of medical providers formerly known as Family Health Services, and led by its President and CEO, Dr. Davalu “Davy” Parrish.  A comprehensive year-round after school and summer camp program for inner-city children, The Bridge was located at 1824 N. Pearl Street on Jacksonville’s northside.  It was destined to eventually serve more than 3,500 children, ages 6-18, with medical and healthcare needs as well as educational and social programs designed to enhance their lives. 

Nemiah Rutledge at age 7
Nemiah Rutledge at age 7

“When Nemiah and his younger sister, Shemiah, came to us, their mother, Linda Oliver, was on our staff,” recalls Dr. Parrish. “At that time, we were beginning to expand beyond our main campus through the Bridge Urban Springfield (BUS) program to several school and neighborhood sites.”

During their years at The Bridge, Nemiah and his sister attended Holy Rosary Catholic School and later became students at The Potters House Christian Academy, but it was through their after-school and summer camp activities that they received what Nemiah now calls his “leg up on life.”

“Our teachers at The Bridge were like a second set of parents,” recalls Nemiah.  “We had a good snack waiting for us when we got there, and then we got one-on-one help with homework.  Every day, we had special classes in art, computers, sports, self-esteem, leadership, and more, and before we left for home at 6 p.m., we got a nutritious meal.  We were the best-fed kids in our neighborhoods – both physically and mentally!”

Nemiah remembers specific teachers at The Bridge, like Mary Bishop who taught sex education, and Sabrina McCants, who combined art with math and helped him understand his multiplication tables.  “Sabrina tricked my brain,” he laughs.  “I was ADHD (Hyperactive) and I sketched and doodled all the time.  That day I was drawing butterflies.  She had me draw nine butterflies and taught me my nine tables with them.  I became quick with math after that.” 

As to the sex education taught by Mary Bishop and others, The Bridge partnered with The Jaguars Foundation in an age-appropriate sexuality education program, Straight Talk, for youth ages 10-17, which was aimed at reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  “I never fathered a child or got an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease),” says Nemiah, “and for that, I thank The Bridge.” 

Nemiah also thanks The Bridge for giving him opportunities he might not have had otherwise, such as learning proper table manners, learning to dress for success, proper hygiene and nutrition, and meeting celebrities such as Jaguar Mark Brunell through the “Shop with the Jock” program.  “I learned how to socialize with others on the next level,” notes Nemiah.

Nemiah with Mother Linda Oliver and sister Shemiah
Nemiah with Mother Linda Oliver and sister Shemiah

Nemiah’s last days with the Bridge were when he was 17 and working in his first paying job at St. Vincent’s Hospital through the Tipping the Scale Mentoring/Job Skills Program, a partnership between The Bridge and St. Vincent’s, Baptist and Shands Hospitals.  Sadly, Nemiah lost contact with The Bridge soon thereafter.

In the meantime, with literally thousands of youth on her mind and in her heart, Dr. Davy Parrish continued as CEO and President of The Bridge until her retirement in 2013, her work in the community having been recognized by the Governor’s Heartland Award in 1997, the One Jax Humanitarian Award in 1999, the Florida Times Union EVE Award in 2009, Gateway Girl Scouts Women of Distinction Award in 2011, and many others, including the Women of Color Education Service Award.  Even after retirement, Dr. Parrish stayed on with the Bridge in an advisory capacity and as a mentor and volunteer, keeping up with many of the former students.  Eventually, The Bridge merged with The Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida. 

Fast forward to a warm June afternoon in 2015 when Dr. Davy Parrish was walking her dog Ollie on the sidewalk near her home at Christopher Point Road, North, in Lakewood.  A young man came out of a nearby house where he had been providing fitness training to a client and he stopped short.  “Are you Miss Davy?” he asked.  Within minutes, the two were hugging and laughing.  “I recognized Nemiah instantly as a ‘Bridge kid,’ even though it had been over a decade since we’d seen one another,” declared Parrish.  “He was hard to forget, with that million-mile smile!”

For Nemiah, then 28, the decade leading up to their fateful meeting that afternoon was one of turmoil and challenge, culminating in nearly losing his life in 2011 as the result of smoking a marijuana cigarette laced with battery acid.  Nemiah’s life changed for the better after that incident.  At the urging of mentor Earnest Maiden, a civil engineer with Gibbs Group, Inc., Nemiah attended Heritage Institute to earn an Associates degree in Health Science and became a certified personal trainer. 

Determined, and utilizing a great deal of the polish and personality learned through his years at The Bridge, Nemiah Rutledge has become a successful personal trainer, having opened Body Paradox Fitness in 2016, with more than 24 certified trainers now working for him.  “I’m a fan of The Flash, the super-hero, who tried to re-write his past by going into the future in a comic strip titled Flash Paradox,” explains Nemiah. “My Body Paradox Fitness helps you change your body, your life and your future.” 

There were several catalysts for Nemiah Rutledge’s success, in addition to his foundational time at The Bridge, his renewed relationship with Dr. Davy Parrish, and his mentor Earnest Maiden.  He calls his wife of five years, Keena, his “rib,” noting that she has been instrumental in the success of Body Paradox, and he is constantly meeting new influencers in his life who make a positive difference going forward. 

Full circle, Nemiah is now helping Dr. John Parrish, Davy’s husband, with fitness training several days a week, and has met many new clients through his association with the Parrish’s.  One such client is North Florida Market President Darnell Smith of Florida Blue, another mentor.  Body Paradox Fitness is now featured at two Florida Blue corporate sites as well as at the law firm of Harrell & Harrell.  He is currently in line to help create an exciting fitness atmosphere at the twelve new Conviva Health Centers for Seniors in Jacksonville.  Body Paradox Fitness is getting more fit with each new day!

And as to bridging the future … where does Nemiah Rutledge go from here?  His five-year plan has several goals, including doubling his current staff and providing more workshops on fitness and nutrition.  One of the values he learned from The Bridge is the importance of giving back and this he hopes to do by eliminating the food deserts on the Northside and Eastside, where he grew up, as well as promoting physical fitness along with good nutrition and recycling.  He wants to find practical uses for plastic bottles.  “I hope to become known as a harbinger of hope,” he declares, “just as the Bridge was for so many of us.”

By Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

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