Filled with a number of incredible neighborhoods, Memphis is always in the middle becoming even better than it already is and SOUL is always excited to share some of the amazing things that are happening here.
This week’s spotlight is on Jared Myers, Executive Director of The Heights Community Development Corporation. Check out what they are doing over in the Heights.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Memphis and went to White Station High School and then on to the University of Memphis. I moved away for a few years to work in Colorado for Young Life and then to Philadelphia for graduate school at Eastern University. I moved back to Memphis about four years ago to work with my friend Reggie Davis at Streets Ministries. While working at Streets, I met my now wife, Erin, who taught next door at Kingsbury Middle School. Erin and I live in the Heights and really enjoy being a part of this community. We attend Christ Community Church with some great friends who also live, work, and worship in this neighborhood. I am currently the Executive Director of the Heights Community Development Corporation.
What do you like about Memphis?
I like the people of Memphis and the small town feel of the city. I like that when you ask people where they went to school they respond with their high school. Memphis is a beautiful place to live because of the tough and loving people that give it a charm that grows on you with time.
What do you do and what inspired you to do it?
I wake up every morning thinking about how I am going to address the issue of blighted and abandoned properties in our community. The Heights Community Development Corporation exists to serve as a catalyst in development by means of rehabilitation of existing homes and development of new of new affordable housing. The vacant homes and lots in our community have perpetuated crime and lowered the quality of life for our residents. I am passionate about loving my neighbors and loving my community by developing quality, affordable housing. I am motivated by the story of the prophet Jeremiah and how he tells the exiled community of Judah to have hope and pray for the city. Jeremiah 29:7 says, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find welfare.”
What are some challenges you’ve experienced in your work?
One of the great challenges I face is with outside investors who do not have the best interest of the community or city at heart. Almost every week I encounter an individual who owns several properties in the Heights and has no intentions of fixing them up. Another challenge that I face is the policies that prevent me from acquiring properties to redevelop. I have learned that because of redemption periods and state laws, it takes a very long time to acquire a vacant property that you want to redevelop.
What are some ways that youth workers both contribute and benefit from the work you do in the neighborhood?
Building relationships with the youth in our community is important because we understand that our mission of making our neighborhood safe and healthy cannot be achieved without them. If you look back on the Civil Rights Movement, it was the fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen-year-olds sitting at the lunch counters and going on marches. Our youth are important and the leaders who work with the youth are important. They build relationships with students who can help us carry the vision for the community.
Recently, there were two projects where youth and their leaders contributed to the Heights CDC’s efforts. One project involved using a cell phone app to do a neighborhood survey of problem properties that need to be tracked and addressed. The other project involved the boarding up of two properties that were unsecured and attracting criminal activity. On their Spring Break, students from Kingsbury High, Douglas High, and Second Baptist youth group measured, cut, and painted art on boards that were then attached to the windows and doors of the vacant homes. This project made the neighborhood safer, engaged the youth, and beautified our community. Without the relationships that were developed by the youth leaders, these projects would not have been possible.
What are some challenges to doing ministry in Memphis?
It is hard to admit that the city I love has had a tough time following Christ’s command to love Him and love others well. The racial and socioeconomic division in our city over time was something that I did not fully comprehend until I returned home after living in Philadelphia. I returned with a new lens that allowed me to see how broken our city is and how the Church has in many ways perpetuated the problems we are now facing with urban education and housing.
My passion to see the Church of Memphis be the light in a dark place continues to grow as I see the love of Christ drive young men and women to Memphis neighborhoods to serve and extend the Gospel to young people. I pray that the love of Christ will overpower the desire for justice so that we do not come to love justice more than we love our neighbor. I pray that the love, which we have come to know because of the grace bestowed on us from our heavenly father, will allow us to build relationships that turn into discipleship, creating a new generation of believers.
What encourages you about the work being done in Memphis?
There is something very special happening in Memphis. The love of Christ is being shared in some amazing ways. There are Christian doctors who are living and working in underserved neighborhoods. There are Christian teachers who are moving to Memphis to work in low-performing schools and sharing the Gospel with students.There are youth ministries that are doing incarnational ministry in community with each other.
Despite the brokenness of this city, there is a resiliency and desire for change. The hope for this change to come about comes from dedication to our youth in this city and “training a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Youth workers in our city bring me hope because they are abiding by the Bible. “Teaching children the truths of Scripture will make them wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15); “throughly equip them to do good works” (2 Timothy 3:17); “prepare them to give an answer to everyone who asks them the reason for their hope”(1 Peter 3:15); and build a hunger for the word of God.
The hope I have for my city lies in the love of Christ, His bride the Church, and the Holy Spirit that empowers us. There is great need but we serve an even greater God.
Check out their website, wearetheheights.com, to find out more information about The Heights CDC.