Alum Jason Sharif Builds Community in Memphis, TN

March 20, 2024

In Whitehaven, a neighborhood in South Memphis, TN, is a tale of two cities. It has a middle class Black community with the highest number of Black homeowners, businesses, and registered Black voters, and the highest Black median income in Memphis. Whitehaven also has a 30 percent poverty rate, 47 percent of students are designated as economically disadvantaged, and 13 percent of the population does not have a high school diploma. 

The students who live in that second Whitehaven face a lot of challenges that often prevent them from succeeding at school and beyond. Leaders of Color alum Jason Sharif founded RESPECT the Haven CDC to serve the community and remove those barriers to success. 

Respect the Haven serves a predominantly Black and disinvested community across four areas of community development, including economic, education, civic, and social engagement. In the education pillar, Respect the Haven provides holistic supports that help students attend and succeed at school - things like providing scholarships to students who plan to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), purchasing uniform vouchers for kids, and helping families find stable housing and much more. 

Respect the Haven is also working on systemic changes to help Shelby County support all students. Through the Youth Participatory Action Research project in conjunction with Shelby County’s Youth and Education Nonprofit Sub-Committee and the Opportunity Accelerator, Respect the Haven is working to better understand Opportunity Youth. Opportunity youth are young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are persistently disconnected to employment and/or education opportunities. This research is unique because Respect the Haven is working with young people in Shelby County who will be trained and compensated to develop and execute the research.

For Jason, supporting the community and children is his life’s work. He has served in the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services in Memphis and Nashville as a Child Protective Services Investigator, Juvenile Justice Probation Officer and Juvenile Justice Regional Coordinator. Through his leadership,  Respect the Haven CDC was recently awarded the 2023 Community Excellence Award for Excellence in Service to the Whitehaven Community by the Greater Whitehaven Economic Redevelopment Corporation. 

In the coming year, Jason plans to continue his work to break down systemic barriers for Black students and businesses, help produce solutions to homelessness, and work towards new educational facilities, like a STEM center for students. 

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