The Wheels of Steel

January 4, 2023

A Schenectady nursing home member enjoys an absorbing alter

Screen Shot 2023-01-04 at 12.09.17 PM.png“I am an entertainer in my soul,” says DJ Ketchup—aka Chaheem Priest, an 1199 Resident Support Worker at Glendale Nursing Home in Schenectady, New York. He’s worked there since 2008, only taking a short hiatus during the height of COVID.

In his spare time, DJ Ketchup can be found on the “wheels of steel,” mixing tracks for weddings, bar mitzvahs, business events and even school dances. “My favorite part is getting into the audience and dancing and singing with the guests,” he says.

1199NEWS recently met up with DJ Ketchup high above the field in a press box calling plays for the New York Capital Region’s champion Schenectady-Belmont Pop Warner football team. Despite the action on the high school gridiron, DJ Ketchup made sure fans knew 1199 was also in the house along with the union’s 2022 endorsed candidates at a special table full of swag.

Where did the DJ Ketchup handle come from? “It’s a silly little story,” Priest explains. “I was 14, sitting at the lunch table with my mom. I told her that I wanted to be a professional DJ. She said, ‘You’d be terrific! You are already pro here at home. Other people are going to have to catch up with you, son.’ And then I reached for ketchup for my lunch…the rest is history!”

A little later, while still in middle school, one of Priest’s classmates invited him to a pool party. “I offered to DJ and her mother said, okay. I was really nervous at first, but I kept gaining confidence the more events I did.”

My mom was always my biggest support. She passed recently—and that’s why I named our 3-year-old daughter, Lorriana, after her.”

Now 32, Priest has a genuine side gig going with his twin brother, Kaheem, who acts as his business partner in DJ Ketchup Enterprises.

In his day job as a Resident Support Worker, Priest works in various different parts of the facility. “If they need housekeeping one day, I do that. If they need laundry, I do that,” the parttime DJ says. “Whenever I have a chance, I interact with the residents and spend time just talking with them. I love to hear their stories. The CNAs and direct care workers used to have more time to listen to those stories and socialize with the residents— but short-staffing is an issue at Glendale, just like everywhere else.

I am so glad I can help fill that role. I also work with the recreation aides who set up time for me to entertain the residents.”

DJ Ketchup plays all kinds of music depending on his audience. At the nursing home, it’s often music from the 40s, 50s and 60s. “I play big band music and country music. Whatever the residents want. And I dance with them,” DJ Ketchup says. “I am grateful that we have a union that gives us a voice at work, so that managers aren’t the only ones who make decisions. I know this helps morale. I am clear that when it comes to contract time, one person could never win alone what our union committee bargains. I am always aware that I am lucky to be an 1199 member.”

1199 Magazine: November - December 2022