Bridgebuilder Spotlight: Sharon Jones
This feature is a part of our “Bridgebuilder Spotlight” series where we lift up some of the amazing Bridgebuilders in our network. If you’d like to connect with Sharon or other Bridgebuilders, contact our Creative Director: Adam Denney firstname.lastname@example.org
“I’m the person that when I meet you at the bus stop, in 5 minutes, I know your history. I know how to ask questions, I know how to talk.”
If you ever get the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Sharon Jones, the first thing you’ll notice is how organic and easy it is to engage in a conversation. Sharon is blessed with the ability to connect with people at every level of life and uses that connection to act as a bridge amongst people who may not normally engage with one another. And this gift has served Sharon from a young age.
Sharon grew up in Alabama, in a small farming community just outside Mobile, and was the youngest of ten children. While she comes from a large family, she is separated in age from her nearest sibling by 15 years. She knows both the worlds of a large family and that of an only child.
“I was bored and out of my boredom came my love for creativity and planning. I was the one helping the teachers, organizing plays for the Fourth of July, and little programs here and there. I was always doing things.” And indeed, she was.
“As a child, I helped my pastor during his run for City Council in Mobile. At that time, I couldn’t even vote-I wasn’t old enough and didn’t live in Mobile where he was running-but he was running on a platform on making Mobile better for youth. And being under his wing, I knew he was passionate about young folks, and I believed in him because I knew what he did for us.” And yes, by the way, he did get elected and is still on City Council to this day.
In 1997, Sharon moved to Columbus to continue her education at Ohio State University. In 2000 she moved to the Linden neighborhood with her husband where they settled to raise their two boys. As Sharon and her family were becoming part of the LInden community, the Mayor at the time began a Know Nine Neighbors initiative that encouraged residents to get out of their homes and get to know those around them.
“I took hold of that initiative and I started to venture out. I began to talk to everyone around me, to truly get to know the people and see what was going on.” And, as an avid book reader, the library became one of her favorite places to do just that.
One night in 2018 as she was leaving the library, Sharon met a woman from OSU who was trying to get feedback from community members about some neighborhood plans that were coming down the pipeline. “I wanted to hear, to be in the know of what’s going on.” Then something happened.
“When I got into the room, there were a lot of people and they began asking questions that made me, well, uncomfortable. It was at this moment I realized, gentrification is real and it’s about to happen.”
Sharon recalled a conversation she had with a neighbor not long before the meeting. “We were driving and passed by some new apartments being developed and my neighbor said, ‘they look kind of fancy for this neighborhood. What do you think they are going to do Sharon? Who is going to live there?’ and all I could say is I don’t know, but it don’t look good. Something is going on.”
That meeting stuck with Sharon and she continued to pray for a way to help her community that wouldn’t displace long-term residents. And then she reconnected with someone she watched grow up in church, Cohear’s Jasmine Ayres.
Jasmine had reached out to New Salem Baptist’s Life Development Coordinator to see if they knew anyone who would be interested in an upcoming conversation with decision-makers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and community members in Linden.
“You know, I had already been seeing and learning from my neighbors about what was going on in Linden, so when Jasmine asked me if I’d like to participate, I knew I had to. I wanted to make sure that whatever Nationwide was considering for our neighborhood, that we really had a voice and say about what was going to happen...Once I got in there, I thought this is a Godsend. I’d prayed for an opportunity to share my ideas.”
And not only did Sharon jump on board, so did her two boys who also participated in conversations with Cohear, Nationwide’s leaders, and the Linden community.
DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:e8p3jIf you ever get the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Sharon Jones, the first thing you’ll notice is how organic and easy it is to engage in a conversation. Sharon is blessed with the ability to connect with people at every level of life and uses that connection to act as a bridge amongst people who may not normally engage with one another. And this gift has served Sharon from a young age.
Sharon and her family are still active with Cohear and the decision-makers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. And for her, doing this alongside her two boys is what she considers her ministry. “I’m doing for them what my mom did for me. Encourage me to use my voice.”
We asked Sharon how she hopes her voice is used as she continues, with her family, to work alongside Cohear and Nationwide’s leaders.
“I hope Linden continues to grow, not only growing in a way that gives us housing, jobs, and access to resources but that this growth supports strengthening those of us already in Linden. We are a community that is growing for one another. Of course, we welcome outsiders to come in and be a part of our community, to learn about and love Linden the way we do. But as more resources, jobs, and changes come, I want those investments to go directly to us, the community that makes up Linden. My pastor always used the phrase ‘it’s in the house,” and for me, the house of Linden is so strong when the village comes together.”
So, if you ever find yourself sitting next to Sharon at a bus stop, at the library, or at New Salem Baptist Church, you won’t have to worry about starting up a conversation. Why? Well, because chances are you’re already five minutes into the conversation and engaging with a new friend.
Photo by Starfyah Photography