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Memphis Allies is expanding the SWITCH – Support with Intention to Create Hope — program to Orange Mound with a new partner and office.

SWITCH serves individuals aged 17 to 30 who are at highest risk for involvement in gun violence. SWITCH is now serving Raleigh/Frayser and Orange Mound with plans to expand to five other areas of Memphis within the next three years: North and South Memphis, Whitehaven and Binghampton.

Our newest Ally organization is I Shall Not Die But Live. It is led by Renardo Baker, founder and executive director of the nonprofit. He has been working in the Orange Mound community for more than 15 years and focuses on the great need for young people to learn how to deal with their emotions.

The organization’s partnership with Memphis Allies allowed Renardo to expand his work and hire a team to reach out and serve more young people. Most of Renardo’s crew are his past mentees whom he has guided over the years through his support of Melrose High School.

“My team gets to bring change to their community,” Renardo said. “They’re excited, and just to see that excitement brings me joy too.”

For Renardo, partnering with Memphis Allies just made sense.

“It was a perfect situation where the resources would be provided,” he said. “I could put a team together without giving up my vision.”

Renardo grew up in the Orange Mound area. “I was around a lot of gangs and my part in helping destroy my community was being a drug dealer,” he said. At a young age, he began selling drugs and had five ‘dope houses.’ The crime eventually caught up to him, and he was faced with an eight-year sentence for his charge.

He turned his life around and has been mentoring young men and women in his community for more than 15 years. After the senseless killings of one of his mentees, he didn’t know what else he could do.

“I was so mad,” he said. “That was one of the triggers for me going into depression.”

However, Renardo stepped up to the plate and began to implement changes to create a safer neighborhood. He developed a safe house for counseling and gave employment opportunities to young people. By owning his own lawn service, he creates jobs for the young men.

It takes one moment for someone to have a disagreement and the situation could take a turn down the wrong path. However, Renardo says he is hopeful Orange Mound can shift gears in the right direction and has seen youth together having peaceful moments.

“Sometimes bad situations create good ones,” he said.

Sometimes bad situations create good ones

– Renardo

“But we have the opportunity to save so many whose hearts have gone from being hard to soft.”

The intensive work necessary to reduce gun violence in Memphis would not be possible without collaboration and providing resources and support to community partners like I Shall Not Die but Live. Memphis Allies’ leadership is excited to continue forming and strengthening relationships as the initiative expands.

Don Wade of the Daily Memphian takes a deeper look at what led Renardo to this moment, others who are part of the work in Orange Mound and the greater movement to reduce gun violence in Memphis.