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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — To grow up as a young man surrounded by gun violence and drugs can be tough. Sadly, it doesn’t end well for many.

One man in Orange Mound is helping turn his hometown neighborhood around with a safe space. He is creating a safe house in the same neighborhood he faced trouble.

“I was facing eight years in jail. I’m blessed to come out of that situation and one night some guys tried to kidnap me but they weren’t successful,” Renardo Baker said.

Baker grew up in Orange Mound.

“I used to sell drugs in this community. I had five different dope houses and from those dope houses in that proximity, I helped destroy the mindset of people in the area because I sold them the drugs. So what God showed me — He said, change it around. He said now do a safe house and help those in your proximity and change their mindset.”

Baker’s non-profit organization he created with his family is called BJ’s Heart, honoring a loved one. He’s been mentoring youth and adults for years and has since been using the slogan “I Shall Not Die But Live!” It’s plastered all over a van he drives which features clips from our articles, highlighting the magnitude of gun violence across the city.

“One year I lost five young men to gun violence in this community. I went into a deep depression, really had to get some type of counseling to learn how to deal with that grief but I also came to understand about the young people that are in this community. They’re losing friends and mothers are losing their child and their friends are losing their child, so just imagine a young person might experience losing five to six people in one year.”

Baker has a lawn care business. He employs youth to keep them off the streets.

When he went through his divorce, he stayed at a home his grandparents lived in on Carrington Road. It was his safe space after all he had been through.

“I found freedom in this house,” he said.

Baker walked us around the home that’s being renovated. He said it’s a home where he found comfort and where he developed a deeper relationship with God. Now he hopes it will do the same for others.

“This is where a person can pray, meditate, study and get one-on-one counseling with someone.”

It’s also a place he is now creating to help mentor and heal those dealing with trauma.

“I sat down and talked to a young lady, 22-years-old. Come to find out she was molested by her father, come to find out she was forced to drink alcohol at an early age. She had her first son when she was about 14 or 15-years-old. I got a young man that works with me right now he’s 25. Just last year he lost one of his best friends to gun violence, one of them to drug overdose and he lost his brother who was killed up here at Speedy Corner. So, it’s those stories that trigger and have me think, how can you honestly help them?”

Renardo would like his safe house to bring hope and healing to those in need across Orange Mound.