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JA New York Talks with JA Alumna, Sharon Joseph

CEO/Co-Owner, HARLEM LANES

 

Junior Achievement of New York alumna, Sharon Joseph, was a Wall Street executive for nearly a decade at firms such as Bankers Trust and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, when a passion for entrepreneurship and deep family roots in Harlem sparked the desire to play a role in the revitalization of this historic neighborhood. Sharon joined forces with her aunt Gail Richards to make history by introducing Harlem Lanes, a premier entertainment destination where family and friends can eat, drink and have fun. Harlem Lanes is the country’s first bowling alley built and owned by Black women, and the first bowling alley in Harlem in 30 years. Sharon is a graduate of both Tufts University and Columbia Business School and remains active in the Columbia Business School entrepreneurship program.

Sharon, where were you born and raised and how old were you when you were first introduced to Junior Achievement programs?

I was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and I was raised in Harlem, New York. I was in Junior High School when I first came into contact with JA programs. I attended Booker T. Washington Junior High School on 107th Street and Columbus Avenue. My earliest memory is remembering people [volunteers] talking about their business experiences. Before this, I had never really thought about the possibility of owning my own business or even of working for corporate America. My experience with Junior Achievement made me start thinking about new opportunities and possibilities in life.

How did your JA experience impact your educational and career choices?

I remember back in elementary school, there was a teacher who told me that most of the kids in my class would never go beyond 110th street. JA helped me to see the diversity of opportunities available to me in the world if I were to remain focused and do well in school.

What value do volunteers bring to the JA student experience?

JA volunteers give children tangible examples of the unlimited opportunities available to them. It’s one thing for a child to read about various professions. It becomes real when a child can speak to and interact with people in various professions. The volunteers give valuable guidance to young people who might never have received this kind of exposure to opportunities and new possibilities.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Growing up in Harlem I was inspired by entrepreneurs in the neighborhood, including my business partner and aunt, Gail Richards. I saw women who owned beauty shops, families who ran funeral homes and restaurants. Unfortunately, these people are now a dying breed.

What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur and what is the most challenging aspect?

To me, the most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur is the ability to create generational wealth and the ability to control your personal destiny. The most challenging part is the risk associated with being an entrepreneur. There is financial and personal risk (investing all of your money and that of your investors in the business; the limited time available to spend with family, and friends). Then there’s the professional risk – what will it mean for your future and career if you should fail? As an entrepreneur, each day you are responsible for shaping your life and maybe the lives of several other people (employees, family). It’s both the most rewarding and the most challenging thing that anyone could undertake.

As a JA alumna, how important is it for you to reconnect with JA; to give back to another generation of students?

It’s very important. I’m a firm believer in the wise saying that “to whom much is given, much is required”.

What advice would you give to students and/or volunteers who are interested in participating in or giving back to JA programs?

To volunteers, it’s important to believe that you are planting a seed of opportunity that will one day become a beautiful plant or tree – a real asset to the world we live in. To young people out there, take advantage of every opportunity you are given. Every goal attained starts with a dream or a vision. JA helps you to develop your dream and gives you the tools to make those dreams a reality.