Northside paper connects community

If a resident of Northside, the historically African-American Chapel Hill neighborhood, has a question they need answered, they can ask a neighbor, call a relative or write in to the community paper, the Northside News, where longtime resident and community leader Keith Edwards has her own “Ask Keith!” column.

Jacob Lerner, Coordinator of Organizing and Advocacy at the Jackson Center, sits at his computer, with an edition of Northside News nearby. (Staff photo by Ellen Werner)

Alexander Stephens, who was involved with creating the Northside News in 2010, said people already went to Edwards, a former police officer, for advice.  Now Edwards’ column makes her advice available to all readers.

The Northside News, referred to as a newsletter by some, is a front-and-back page paper released monthly by the Marian Cheek Jackson Center, an organization that aims to serve the Northside community and pay tribute to the area’s rich history, said Jasmine Farmer, the Jackson Center’s Civic Media Coordinator and producer of the Northside News.

Brentton Harrison, the Jackson Center’s Community Action Coordinator, hand delivers the paper to more than 600 houses each month.

Farmer explained that the goal of the paper is not only to inform residents of events in the community, but also to honor them and make them feel proud of their neighborhood.

“It’s their newsletter, not ours,” Farmer said.

It has always been the paper’s goal to include content from as many residents as possible, Farmer said.

Stephens said, “We wanted it to be something to feature the stories and voices of community members.”

But Edwards said the identity of Northside, located to the west of North Columbia Street and extending to the Carrboro town line, has changed in recent years as the community struggles with maintaining a positive relationship with UNC-Chapel Hill students.

According to a focus report compiled by the Town of Chapel Hill, one of the major issues facing longtime Northside residents is the pressure added to the housing market by students moving into the area.

The neighborhood, which is known for offering affordable housing, has begun to feel “like Fraternity Row,” Edwards said. The new residents, most of whom are students only living in Northside for a few months, have no affiliation with the community and do not care to, she added.

For Edwards, whose family has lived in Northside since the 1960s, the benefit of the Northside News is that it serves the Northside community in a way that the Chapel Hill newspaper and other larger papers cannot or do not.

“They’re not as connected to a community that’s really suffering, and we need to have an outlet where we can talk about things,” Edwards said.

The paper also possesses the potential to build a new community, Stephens said.

“If people are all getting the same information, they are able to talk about it with their neighbors and identify,” he said.

One of the Northside News’ goals is to cater to the residents who have lived in the area the longest, letting them know that the paper is here for them despite the changes the neighborhood is facing, Farmer said.

Each month the paper includes an archive trivia section, and if a resident calls in with the correct answer to the question, he or she wins a prize.

But Northside differs greatly from what it used to be, Edwards said.  It was once “a safe haven” for African-Americans living under Jim Crow laws.

“You could go into your own community and shut the door on social issues,” Edwards said.

But the Northside News is starting to revive the feeling of community by reopening a line of communication between residents, Edwards said.

“What the paper really tries to do is bring together what’s left of this community,” Edwards concludes.


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Edited by Amanda Hayes

Author of the article

Ellen is a writer-photographer for the Carrboro Commons and a journalism student at UNC-Chapel Hill.