“That’s the story to tell and story to celebrate; how this neighborhood once again has come together creatively to determine its future.” - George Barrett, Executive Director

Below: The Northside Residential Fellows and Linking Generations in Northside cohort join together for a neighborhood potluck.

In the mid-2000s, the Northside neighborhood of Chapel Hill was at a crossroads. Outside investors were scooping up property in the historic Black neighborhood by offering straight cash (typically under market value) to primarily Black homeowners and turning those family homes into student rental investment properties. This predation was leading to higher property taxes for long-term residents, most of whom were on fixed income, and the influx of UNC students living in the neighborhood brought about an exponential increase in loud and unruly parties, trash, and other issues that affected the quality of life for long-term residents and families. At the same time, a group of students of Professor Dela Pollock were engaging in a relational practice of oral histories with long-term Black residents. One of the folks who shared their story with Professor Pollock’s students was lifelong resident Marian Cheek Jackson. Through hours of listening, listening again, sharing pews at local Black churches like St. Joseph C.M.E, cooking together, and working side-by-side in creative community action, these students, along with local faith leaders, activists, friends, and resident leaders in Northside, became a collective body working to preserve Northside’s history IN the community and use that history as the inspiration for strategies to respond to threats of displacement. It was after years of this work that the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History was founded in 2009.

Undergraduate volunteers training in oral history, a powerful way to learn about lived experience.

The Jackson Center was founded to be a hub of community action. The mission formed “to honor, renew, and build community within the historically Black neighborhoods of Northside, Pine Knolls, and Tin-Top in Chapel Hill and Carrboro NC.” This mission continues today as the organization focuses on three distinct bodies of work: housing justice and advocacy, educating future generations on the history of these communities, and celebration and connection.

Below: Jackson Center staff and fellow community welcoming a new neighbor with a basket of goodies.

The primary aim with housing justice and community advocacy work is to retain residents who wish to remain in the neighborhood for generations to come, despite rising taxes that present barriers. Through property tax mitigation, the Jackson Center helps offset these rising costs and organizes critical home repair work for aging homes. Another aim is to allow the community to “Bend the Market Towards Justice,” which is realized through the Northside Neighborhood Initiative (NNI). The NNI is a multi-partner plan that implements multiple strategies and engages dozens of partners with the goal of preserving the future of Northside, Pine Knolls and Tin-Top. NNI is directed by the Compass Group - a group of over two dozen residents from every block of the neighborhood, who set the primary strategies and are the key decision makers. The Jackson Center and Self-Help Credit Union work together as the main implementation partners of the Compass Group’s vision.

Arguably, the most critical tool of the NNI is the landbank. The landbank is a housing acquisition and disposition tool that allows the community to “control the dirt.” Self-Help Credit Union holds and administers the acquisition funds. When a property is discovered as going up for sale or at risk of transitioning from family-owned to a student rental, The Compass Group, supported by the Jackson Center, identifies the property, and Self-Help purchases and holds it in the landbank. As a result,  instead of the land being sold to an investor, it is held in the landbank, giving the community control of the land and time to direct its future usage.

Stretching knowledge across all generations is also a priority for the Jackson Center. A variety of programs are offered with the goal to “disrupt conventional history and empower every student today.” For example, the Community Mentor Team shares their real life experiences as Northside residents and as civil rights leaders with children. “This work is driven and directed by the members of Northside,” says George Barrett, Executive Director. “Our main goal is to facilitate community aspirations and have our programs rooted in what the community wants to see.”

Below: Two events with the Linking Generations in Northside (LINK) program, a year-long programs that builds multi-generational relationships with UNC students and elder neighbors.


Finally, the Jackson Center has helped the community to celebrate and connect, even in the face of change. The organization strives to invite in individuals and build relationships rooted in the traditions of the neighborhood. For example, the community encourages students living temporarily in Northside to be a part of the neighborhood to further understand and embrace its unique culture. This is accomplished through volunteer opportunities, where students serve alongside long-term residents in efforts to fight against food insecurity in the neighborhoods, advance community journalism, advocate alongside resident leaders for policies that will benefit the community, and build intergenerational relationships through block parties and community celebrations. The Jackson Center is striving to make more of the history tangible through creative placemaking work, with physical structures that honor the educators, stonemasons and builders, and faith leaders of the neighborhood. These structures will be strategically placed by community direction to honor history and attract new homeowners.

Below: Jackson Center staff and community pictured at a neighborhood potluck.

When looking towards the future, incorporating more connection into the community is key for the Jackson Center. To sustain care for elderly residents living in the neighborhood, they plan to build a center that both elders and their caretakers can utilize. This project will support the health and safety of elders through community-specific elder care that is more affordable and accessible than traditional forms of assisted living or general caretaking. The Jackson Center is also committed to creating systemic change at the policy level. In 2021 inequitable property valuations in Northside were discovered, and while many have been re-evaluated through appeals and creative advocacy since then, the team says this is a perfect example of a systemic issue that needs to be addressed at the policy level. “We have been able to do so many powerful things on the county level, but how do we have systemic change at the policy level?” says George. Rest assured that George and his team are working tirelessly and creatively to answer that critical question.

The Jackson Center spreading love on Valentine's Day with the annual singing telegrams. 

Photo credits to the Marian Cheek Jackson Center Facebook page.


Mission: To honor, renew, and build community in the historic Northside, Pine Knolls, and Tin Top neighborhoods of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC

Goal: To engage the power of civil rights history; the struggles and strengths of generations of long-term residents; the insights of all who work, live, play, serve, and worship in Northside neighborhoods; and partnership across multiple lines of difference to make community-driven change

To learn more about how you can get involved with Marian Cheek Jackson Center, click the button below.