“There was a gentleman standing behind the club smoking a cigarette, and Aretha Franklin asked him for a drag. Her lipstick was on the cigarette, and he still has that cigarette today,” shares Sharon Hurt, telling us the story of when the late Aretha Franklin visited North Nashville. It is the community’s music legacy, historically black community and local businesses that Sharon works to preserve and promote as At-Large Council Member, Executive Director of Street Works and President/CEO of Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership. Sharon is brutally honest, hardworking, dedicated to her community and an all-around nice woman. We are lucky that she has chosen to share these traits with Nashville and is working each day to better Music City. Welcome Sharon Hurt, as today’s FACE of Nashville.
When and how were you first introduced to Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership (JUMP)?
I am originally from Memphis. I came to Nashville to attend college at Tennessee State University, and after graduation, I worked for Meharry Medical College for 17 years. I moved up from being an Assistant Dean to the Director of Admissions and Records during my tenure at Meharry.
Then, I had short stint working with a computer training company, and an old boss’s wife, a business owner on Jefferson Street, told me about the opening at JUMP, which started as a merchant assistance program for the historically African-American community. Today, JUMP is a full-service organization that serves Jefferson Street and our surrounding communities through advocacy, commerce and development that respects the community’s culture and heritage. I have been here for 19 years working on the preservation, promotion and redevelopment of the community.
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Tell us about JUMP’s initiatives to serve the community.
We started as a merchant assistance program, but now we work in and serve the community. In order to support businesses, we need residents — and we need to meet the residents in their areas of need. There is a need for transportation, so we started the JUMP Shuttle Service for senior citizens and the disabled. There was no affordable housing in the area, so through a grant, we have rehabbed 10 houses and provided families in the North Nashville community with affordable housing.
But the first thing we did was create Jefferson Street Jazz & Blues Festival. We realized that to grow knowledge of the historic impact Jefferson Street had on Nashville being known as Music City, there was an important role we could play (no pun intended) in developing a festival. It also was intended and has become an annual fundraising event for the organization. We’re now moving into our 19th year (next year).
How does the Jefferson Street Jazz & Blues Festival showcase the history and future of North Nashville?
The festival brings the community together and lets the outside community know that you can come to our neighborhood without safety concerns. It is a community of love, compassion and camaraderie. There are three HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] — Fisk, Tennessee State and Meharry Medical — in walking distance of each other. There is activity everywhere.
The festival has local and national artists, vendors, food trucks and “dancing in the street.” I absolutely love music and think music is the universal language. If you hear the melodious tunes, you will tap your feet, nod your head and clap your hands.
What makes Nashville unique is the music. Music was the heartbeat of the black community. We had Fats Domino and Little Richard and Ike and Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin — the Queen of Soul was right here in Nashville. Bless her … Then, the ’60s and ’70s came, and who shows up? None other than Jimi Hendrix.
The festival started in 2001 to create unity within the city of Nashville. For 15 years, we have held the Bridging the Gap mixer that precedes the festival — Downtown Nashville meets Uptown Jefferson Street. We want to bring these communities together geographically and socially.
Having this festival is the perfect way to connect us to our past, to today and to our future.
What can folks expect to find when visiting the community?
We have a bookstore, art galleries and a framing shop, nail shops and spas, a florist and, of course, beauty and barber shops. We have a shop with Greek paraphernalia, a newspaper, funeral homes, churches — you name it, we’ve got it. We have the Nashville Business Incubation Center, a Google affiliate that serves as an incubator for small businesses, and the Lab, both of which offer opportunities for people who are starting in their business. There are several healthcare entities, from a general hospital to Street Works — an organization that was the first in the state to be approved to lead a needle exchange program and has been a leader in the Nashville community on ending the epidemic of AIDS/HIV. This is a healthcare community.
The main thing is the history that comes with the neighborhood. Even as the area grows, the history is still very important to the fabric of the city’s story.
What motivated your decision to run for public office?
I was already out in the community, building relationships, fostering friendships and garnering support for JUMP. We had a 40-member council plus five at-large members, and those five members were leaving. So, there was an opportunity. Considering the relationships I had built in the community, I gave it some serious consideration.
Then, I attended a meeting for my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, and my 98-year-old sorority sister said, “We have work to do,” in regards to the political landscape of the city, and she made it our duty but challenged us to do more. I came back from the meeting and said to one of my now-fellow council members that I was thinking about running, and she suggested that it would be better for me to run as an at-large [council member].
That meeting was in March, I decided to run in April, and elections were in August. It was humbling when I realized that we received significant support before the runoff (achieving significant numbers over 13 incumbents who were also running). By number of votes received heading into the runoff, I was number five, and during the runoff, I moved up, which is something that doesn’t usually happen. It was a perfect segue for me to move from serving the community, through my work with JUMP, into the larger community of the entire city. It was a perfect display of progression, in my opinion.
Now, I serve the Jefferson Street community and the Nashville community at large. I am really proud of having the ability to bring people together, and that is what I ran on.
What do you hope your legacy to be?
That I brought communities together. That we are united. We are one. This is really one Nashville that is not as separated as you might think. No matter where you go, you have the opportunity for a great quality of life. Nashville is now the “It City,” and I want it to be the “It City” for everyone. Playing a part in making that happen is what drives me in each role where I serve others.
Locally, who is inspiring you?
I would say every person is an inspiration to me. That is why I do what I do. I can reach people from one side of the spectrum to the other and offer something wonderful and inspiring to help make a difference in someone’s life, and they make a difference in mine.
What the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
The best piece of advice I received is that you cannot serve but one master.
Meharry Medical College gave me that advice when they fired me. I thought I would be Mrs. Meharry 2089, but when I was forced to swim, I swam. And I kept going and never stopped. God knows no limits, and He said, “I come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”
What are three things you cannot live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Music — I hear music, and it soothes my soul. I love to dance, and it makes me cry because of how good it is for the soul. I can’t do without my cell phone. And as anyone who knows me knows, I cannot do without my red lipstick.
Thank you, Sharon, for the incredible work you’re doing in our community. And thank you to Ashley Hylbert for these beautiful photos of Sharon!
We’re excited to introduce you to Star Sellers, a nurse who has been with TriStar Health for 46 years. Though she’s newly retired, we wanted to let everyone get to know this amazing caregiver and wish her all the best in her retirement. It is our honor to introduce you to our newest FACE of TriStar, Star Sellers. CLICK HERE to read her delightful interview!