South Salina Street

About South Salina Street

This street once served as a crucial part of the commercial core of the city. These days the vacancy rate remains high, and many buildings need extensive rehabilitation. But the community bustles with small, black-owned businesses, initiatives to improve access to fresh food and fuel young minds, and a civic-minded minister who uses his church as a means to elevate his parishioners along with those who reside beyond the steps of the People’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Main Character

Neighborhood Crusador

By Jaye Michelle Harris

Ten years ago, the Rev.Daren Jaime arrived to serve as pastor for the People’s A.M.E. Zion Church, which stood as a tattered structure on a dilapidated block. But Jaime used his passion and faith to transform not only the church but the neighborhood that surrounds it.

Every week, the Rev. Daren Jaime prepares the sermon for his 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday services at the People’s A.M.E. Zion Church, reflecting on themes that impacted him. The week in February, he focuses on the word “humility” as part of his new “greater works” series. “You must decrease yourself in order to increase God within you,” he preaches to a full congregation during his late service. It’s okay to lean on your community, Jaime says, because there is strength in the many who follow the word of God.

As he wraps up his sermon, Jaime invites people to kneel at the altar for the final prayer and blessing. A young woman makes her way down the aisle toward the front, holding back tears. A dozen others follow her lead, filling the altar. She kneels in front of the pastor, and he places his hand on her shoulder. With a final “amen,” the people who kneeled, stand. Some linger while others approach the pastor. He smiles, laughs, and hugs each of them. Jaime says these weekly services remind him of what makes his dedication to the church and Syracuse worthwhile — the people.

However, that realization took time. As a 20-something, 6-feet-tall, retired pro-basketball player and successful news broadcaster, he enjoyed his life as a Bronx morning talk show host, lending a hand to his local congregation when he could. Raised as a Catholic schoolboy in Harlem, he enjoyed the church and was an altar boy for weekly Sunday mass. “I didn’t want to be a priest because I knew they couldn’t have girlfriends,” he chuckled. “I thought that was kind of weird.”

Jaime was content driving the Sunday school bus for the congregation’s kids, but he says his pastor told him that God had bigger plans for him. “I did not heed the call in the beginning,” he says. But after praying on it, he realized he wanted to do more. At age 26, Jaime entered the seminary, and for seven years he studied the African Methodist Episcopal Zion faith. He then worked at the St. Francis Zion Church in Mount Kisco, New York for five years and found his home at the People’s Church in Syracuse in 2006.

Jaime has spent a decade growing the church and reaching out to the community around it. “This place is a whole lot different — the church and the community — than 10 years ago. You wouldn’t even recognize it,” he says. Before he arrived, the church attracted community members, but they lacked the organization and direction to reach out to their neighbors. Jaime made an effort to change despite feeling a bit nervous when he first arrived. Syracuse served as his second-ever pastorship.

Members of the church remember that history too. “We were just a four-wall church,” recalls Jackie Yancey, the pastor’s executive assistant and a 40-year member of the congregation. When the pastor arrived, she recalls, the People’s A.M.E. Zion Church struggled with a dwindling congregation in a dilapidated neighborhood. The building itself was crumbling, plaster barely clinging to the walls. Today, lively hymns and loud praise ring out from the hundred or so churchgoers that fill the spacious, renovated sanctuary. Those same walls now feature stained glass windows that filter bright, natural light.

“The only difference is that he has good people,” says the Reverend Patricia Bufford, 56, who has worked with the pastor since 2002—entering the ministry under Jaime’s tutelage in Mt. Kisco before following him to Syracuse. “There, he had good vision, but he didn’t have a lot of great people,” she says, referring to the Westchester congregation. Bufford has realized that their previous parish, with a smaller, less involved congregation, lacked a tight-knit sense of community. Now, he’s fostered a sense of duty in the People’s congregation and Bufford says his vision of bringing the church and community together is coming to light.

To start changing the community, the pastor formed the People’s Community Development Corporation (PCDC) in 2008 and purchased the commercial strip across the street. With a grant from the New York Main Street Program, the he renovated the entire exterior and completely remodeled the interior of the second floor. The group also purchased two abandoned drug houses near the church for future plans to expand.

Jaime also serves as community liaison and chaplain for the Syracuse Police Department. He believes there’s no straightforward solution for the neighborhood’s long history of crime and poverty. In 2015, Syracuse had the the eighth highest violent crime rate in New York.

Having been on Jaime’s team for more than a decade, Bufford says she has seen his ability to motivate people to find their purpose. “He is a leader, a man of the cloth, and if he says something, he believes it,” Bufford assures. “If he says ‘I got you,’ he means that he’s got you.”

Once, Jaime hired a man from the community just a few months after he stole from the church. In August 2010, a group of men ransacked the media room and took the sound equipment. He called together the most dedicated members of the church to find the perpetrators. “I put them on a mission, like Jesus,” Jaime says, “they went out two by two into the area to try to find out some information about what had happened,” Jaime recalls. After ardent community canvassing, one of the members confessed. At his arraignment, Jaime stood fought to lower his charge. “And I told him, I said ‘if you ever want to get your life together come on and do that,’” he says. Months later, the pastor hired the young man, who at one point worked on media team he had stolen from.  

But reviving the congregation, he says, was part of what he’s done since he’s come to Syracuse. The young pastor says he was not prepared for the South Side’s violence, prostitution, and drug use. “There wasn’t a lot going on on this block. The only thing across the street was pretty much burned out or bummed out, with the exception of the soul food restaurant that was over there,” he says, gesturing toward the other side of the street.

Now, thanks in part to Jaime’s efforts, the sidewalks are clean, the roads are plowed, and the block has become a budding commercial area in the neighborhood. It’s all part of the pastor’s vision, which he conceived when, one Sunday shortly after his arrival, a prostitute solicited him on the church steps. Angered by the disrepair that surrounded his new congregation, he realized why he was assigned to Central New York. “I prayed and God showed me, and he said, ‘you buy the block and you change the neighborhood,’” he says.

Today, the block houses the NAACP Onondaga County office, a small clothing store, and a Smart Bottle Return center. He says he envisions the block becoming an oasis for small business where community entrepreneurs can grow and neighbors support their local economy.

The PCDC’s investment started a push to revitalize the neighborhood. In 2014, the Southside Community Coalition opened the Eat to Live Food Cooperation. It attempted to help with the lack of fresh food on the Southside on the same block, across Elk Street. They also renovated adjacent strip.

Traditionally, pastors get reassigned by the head of their churches after a few years. But after dedicating 10 years to People’s and the South Side, Jaime is not ready to leave Central New York. “As much as there are a lot of challenges here, there’s still a lot of great opportunities, so I really want to be here,” he explains. He intends to see his vision of a commercial center for the South Side become a reality. After six years of development, the PCDC is launching a new catering company and full-service restaurant, The Mannafest, this summer. It will employ graduates of the church’s new culinary career initiative, run out of their old house of worship at 711 Fayette Street.

And when the weight of the struggling community is sometimes too much to bear, his congregation is always there to support and inspire him. “You have the opportunity to experience a lot of different things, and to help a lot of people in ways that you don’t know how much you’re helping somebody, but just to see the joy and the fulfillment, that makes you get up in the morning,” he reflects.



A.M.E. Zion Church

By Katie Shafsky and Jaye Michelle Harris

Central New York's oldest African-American Church didn't always stand tall on South Salina Street. From its founding in 1835 to when it served as a connection on the Underground Railroad and up until 1975, the People's A.M.E. Zion congregation met at 711 E. Fayette St.

Building Profile

An Edible Oasis

By Katie Shafsky

In one of the city’s “food deserts,” a small cooperative offers residents a chance to revive their community through healthy, affordable choices.

On a snowy day in February on the 2200 block of South Salina Street, a bundled customer takes off her hat in the doorway of the Eat to Live Food Cooperative. Melted snow drips from her jacket as she walks toward the bags of rice and Goya salsa on a shelf.

“You got any toilet paper,” the woman yells, standing on the store’s first floor.

Brandi Marie Woolridge, the store’s general manager, looks down from her office on the store’s open, second-floor balcony. Woolridge, a short woman with a wide smile, says Eat to Live’s main goal is meeting the needs of the residents. She glances through the rows of pantry essentials — bread, milk, and eggs — a wall of fresh produce, and a recently-added deli. “I got it,” she says to the customer as she strides down the stairs toward the back of the store, tucked behind a row of refrigerators.

The Eat to Live Food Cooperative first opened its doors in October 2013 in an effort to provide the South Side neighborhood, which lacked a grocery store at the time, with an accessible option for healthy food. Woolridge, who moved to the South Side in 2011, says the only place to get food in the area at the time were corner stores. “The whole point is that we want to give them healthier options,” she says. “Breaking that bad habit that they’ve got with the corner stores: the junk and the chips and the soda and the beer.”

That mission also mirrors efforts of researchers who seek to solve the issue of food access for communities challenged by a lack of grocery stores and the nutrition options they provide. Evan Weissman, an assistant professor of food studies at Syracuse University and co-founder of Syracuse Grows, an organization focused on urban farming, says that solving food disparities isn’t just important for the community, but also for long-term public health outcomes in the area. To eliminate food disparities, initiatives must engage community members to ensure they’re an active part of the changes going on in their community. “People have to be thinking about how to engage with community members in being able to participate in self-determination, so that projects aren’t enacted on people, but are built in collaboration with people,” Weissman says.

Woolridge says she watched the co-op being built while working as a waitress in a restaurant next door and was drawn to the project’s potential to help people in the neighborhood. “There was a lot of people who were not happy about the things that they saw happening, or not happening, here in the area,” Woolridge says. “I just wanted to be a part of something positive, part of something good.”

That’s why she applied for a job at the co-op, and why she remained a loyal supporter of its mission when it closed two months after its initial opening due to financial struggles. Eat to Live kept its doors closed until reopening in April 2017. Woolridge says that while the store still lacks the momentum and customer response they’d like to see, it remains committed to its mission for the community. “We don’t like what we see happening around here,” Woolridge says. “But the rabbit hole goes so much deeper than we can know. It is a journey, and I feel like the co-op is just kind of scratching the tip of an iceberg.”

Grants and member-owners — who pay a one-time $100 equity investment to have a say in the co-op’s direction along with the co-op’s board members — fund Eat to Live. Usually, the member-owners of co-ops are a large part of a store’s customer base, Woolridge says, but for Eat to Live, that’s not the case. The reason for that issue may be related to the store’s initial struggles. Howie Hawkins, the secretary/treasurer of the co-ops’ board, says community members are hesitant, however, to make the $100 investment because the store closed soon after it’s original opening.  

But Woolridge says that although she’d like community members to invest in the coop, providing an affordable grocery store for the community is at the forefront of Eat to Live’s mission. “It was more about meeting the needs of others rather than about meeting the needs of self,” she says.

And in small ways, Woolridge says, Eat to Live has done just that. Woolridge’s husband is a cab driver in the area, and used to drive an elderly woman, who lives across from the store, for groceries every Thursday morning. Once the store reopened in April, her husband’s “Thursday at 8” stopped calling. She started shopping at the co-op.

“I just see it as benefitting people,” Woolridge says, “and for me that’s enough to keep going.”




By Bridget Hallinan

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A Landmark Church Moves

Due to its growing membership, the People's AME Zion Church moves from its location at 711 E. Fayette St. to its current location at 2306 S. Salina St. After the move, the Rev. Earl R. Cheek is assigned to the congregation. In his almost decade as pastor of People’s, he worked to address education issues, drug abuse, and police brutality in the neighborhood.

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A Cotillion for Faithful, Young Women

The People's AME Zion Church holds its Fifth Annual Debutantes for Christ Cotillion, which presents young women who have dedicated themselves to serve God to the Syracuse community. The initiative was started by Cheek.

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A Coalition Seeks to Revitalize the South Side

The Southside Community Coalition (SCC), which operates out of the South Side Communication Center, is established as a partnership between Syracuse University and a resident group. The SCC looks to “restore, revitalize, and rejuvenate” the area, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country,  through different initiatives. These include a food cooperative, The Stand newspaper, and the Southside Communication Center, which provides free access to computers.

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A New Pastor Works to Improve the Neighborhood

Rev. Daren C. Jaime is appointed to the People’s AME Zion Church. Since his appointment, Jaime has worked to clear prostitution from in front of the church and establish opportunities for community members through the church’s Community Development Corporation. He also has worked with city officials such as Police Chief Frank Fowler and County Executive Joanie Mahoney to tackle larger city issues.

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A Co-op Seeks to Provide Food Access

The Eat 2 Live Food Co-op opens its doors to residents of the Southside in conjunction with the Southside Community Coalition. Because no walkable grocery store existed within two miles, Eat 2 Live looked to combat the food desert that the South Side had become. The store closes due to lack of funding a year later, but reopens in 2016.

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A Culinary School Opens

The Manna Fest, a catering company and restaurant, opens a location across the street from the People’s AME Zion Church. The restaurant hires people from the People’s Community Development Corporation initiative at the church’s old building at 711 Fayette St. A culinary school will run out of the church to help provide career schools and jobs to community members.

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The Personal Altar

By Jaye Michelle Harris

When the Rev. Daren Jaime loses his way, three things provide direction and inspiration: a footstool, a bible, and dirty sneakers. Three items that define the man and his mission.

Journalism awards, study Bibles filled with Post-it notes, sports memorabilia, and a wall of photographs with a gallery of public figures fill the Rev. Daren Jaime’s office. The senior pastor at the People’s A.M.E. Zion Church on Syracuse’s South Side displays accomplishments that shaped his life on his “wall of fame.” Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, his best friend and actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and his late pastor and mentor the Rev. Patricia A. Tyson all make an appearance.

But while he proudly shows off these achievements, his true driving force hides behind the office door. Stacked on a black leather footstool rests a gold-leafed Bible and a pair of dirty, white Phantom basketball sneakers, each item emblematic of the man it belongs to. “That’s my own personal altar,” says Jaime, 49. “For those tough days, the rough stuff.”

The shoes: their dirty exterior and former glory remind him of his home in Harlem, where basketball was his life. After being recruited to play college basketball, Jaime went international, where he played for four years in Spain.

The Bible: the words on these pages serve as his life’s work and mission. After his pastor suggested he join the ministry, he took a break from his New York newscasting career  as a morning talk-show host, and the journalist, who was raised as a Catholic, began studying the African Methodist Episcopal faith and was assigned to the St. Francis A.M.E. Zion church in Mount Kisco, New York at 26. Twenty-three years later, the pastor remains “a true man of the cloth,” says Bufford, who has been with him since his first assignment.

The footstool: the foundation of the altar and the man. The neighborhood serves as the evidence and reason for his devotion to its people and his God. During the 10 years of Pastor Jaime’s leadership, he’s grown a shrinking ministry to a church with full pews, passionate ministries, and heartfelt community outreach. When Jaime first took over, prostitution, drugs, and violence were regular fixtures just beyond the church’s front doors. But instead of condemning the people conducting illegal activities outside his church, Jaime offered support. When a pimp was arrested outside of the church, for example, Jaime promised to help him when he got out. Soon after his release, Jaime wrote the man a reference for a job at WalMart, where the man now works.

Church members praise him for cleaning up the neighborhood. “Pastor has developed the respect that ‘Hey, you’re not going to do that in front of People’s,’” says Jackie Yancey, Jaime’s executive assistant, who was born and raised around the corner from the church.

For the pastor, those three object that sit behind the door and next to the printer and office supplies help fuel his efforts in the church and the community.  “Wherever you come from on your journey, if you stand on the word of God, he’s promised to make footstools of your enemies,” he says.

Celebrating his first decade at People’s Church, the pastor says he hopes to stay at least another 10 years to continue working with community members to encourage entrepreneurship, a sense of neighborhood pride, and a positive future for the South Side’s youth. Some days are easier than others, he admits. And on the days that deliver more challenges than most, he turns to his altar. “When I look at that,” he says, “it gives me the strength to do what I need to do.”

Three Questions

The Walking Example

By Katie Shafsky

This teenager from Syracuse’s Southside credits a community center with helping her go from the bottom of the class to a college-bound honors student.

Ronneeyshia Goodwin,16, lives on Syracuse’s South Side, attends Nottingham High School, and recently received a scholarship to Arizona State University. She plans to study forensic science. Goodwin started coming to the South Side Communication Center, a community center run by the South Side Community Coalition, last year. She went from failing most of her classes to becoming an honors student.

How would you describe this block?

This block, like, it’s really busy. There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of in and out, cars everywhere, people everywhere. I like McKinley Street because all you see is kids outside playing, and I like to see kids outside playing. But it’s really quiet over here, between this street and Amherst. And then Amherst and State, where I live, it’s really quiet. Nothing really goes on. You just see a bunch of kids and good times.

What’s your favorite thing about the block?

The church across the street. I like that church because it does do a lot for the community. I like this, this place right here, the South Side Communication Center. A lot of people don’t know about it, and it really does a lot for the community. Just for me, I’m like a walking testimonial for them because I had horrible grades, and then I came here and now my grades are sky-high.

What future do you see for this block?

I see it growing in black-owned businesses because of the fact that we have the People’s Community Development Corporation down the street that is black owned and that the public can go to. And the money is getting right back into the community. Also, down the street on the same side, there’s a corner store, and there’s the fashion store, and I like to see that. I feel like on the South Side there’s more black-owned businesses.


The Church with a Basketball Team

By Katie Shafsky and Jaye Michelle Harris

Demographic Data

Block in Stats




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Median Household Income ($)


% Below Poverty Line
All data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, broken down according to the census tract in which the block is located.