This year’s invitation to the Whitehaven Christmas Tree Lighting also signals the success of a community effort to purchase a tree considered suitable for the occasion.
The free lighting ceremony coordinated by Respect The Haven CDC and its community partners is set for Sunday, December 11 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the parking lot of the Southland Mall, 1215 Southland Mall.
Not present will be what many deemed a scrawny Christmas tree that was put up on November 21, the Monday before Thanksgiving. A photo posted to social media went viral as area residents inundated the mall management office with complaints about the tree.
Saturday’s lighting countdown will center around a more majestic tree bought with donations – the last of which was $4,000 that attorney Henry Reaves of the Reaves donated after a challenge put to Jason Sharif, executive director of Respect the Haven Community Development Corporation, to raise $20,000 “before the weekend.”
Well, it was raised, and Reaves came through.
“We can remember when the Christmas tree at Southland Mall was spectacular, with all the lights and decorations,” said Pearl Walker, founder and executive director of the I Love Whitehaven Neighborhood and Business Association. “That little, puny Christmas tree was not worthy of our mall. People dubbed it, ‘The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.’”
The pervasive dissatisfaction from the community prompted mall operators to take down the tree before all the decorations were complete.
Stepping in, Sharif posted on the CDC’s Facebook page:
“There is a lady willing to sell us a 30-ft. Christmas tree, valued at $30,000, for $24,000 … This includes delivery, installation, take-down, and storage. We have already raised $2,600 in less than 24 hours. It’s an investment that can last us for years to come, and we can start a new holiday tradition.”
Mt. Vernon Baptist Church Pastor Melvin Watkins sent a note of encouragement, with a $500 donation on behalf of the church.
“There is no calvary coming,” Watkins said. “We are the calvary. We can do this ourselves.”
The call to action resonated and donations started flowing from Whitehaven residents and businesses and friends of the Whitehaven community, according to Walker.
Elected officials pitched in, among them State Rep. Karen Camper ($250) State Sen. Raumesh Akbari ($1,000). Reginald Milton, Shelby County Deputy Administrator in the office of education and youth services, donated $250. Former residents, who had moved away from Memphis, sent donations electronically.
“I think we as a community began to feel more and more empowered because the solution was coming from our own resources,” said Walker. “This was about more than raising money for a Christmas tree. As we got closer and closer to our goal, we understood that this had become a movement.”
Sharif, in a later social media post, said, “… it was so fitting that it was Henry Reaves’ $4,000 check that got us to our fundraising goal for a new Christmas tree. … Always part of the solution! Salute to our Whitehaven attorney general.”
The tree is to be delivered next week, Walker said.
“We are so excited by what this community was able to come together and accomplish,” said Walker. “What is it we can’t do?
“Some were critical of our efforts, but we don’t have to wait for the city, or some other agency to do what we can do for ourselves. God blessed our action, and we are grateful.”