Staff Reflection: Jacob Lerner

During my first week at the Jackson Center, I was first introduced to Keith Edwards and Jane Farrar.  During my second week, I went to a Neighborhood Watch meeting where I met Kathy Atwater, Janie Alston and Anita Booth.  Those relationships I have built and continue to build are what sustains me.  These folks are the people who inspire me and make this community so incredible.  Since I began, I have been in a play on the School to Prison Pipeline with Kathy Atwater, I watched the first game of the UNC football season with Matthew Fearrington and got destroyed in a game pool by him, despite him claiming it was luck.  I was treated to a wonderful lunch at Kathy’s house with Janie, Anita and Keith, I ate some of Joe Alston’s wonderful short ribs, and received a tour of Paul Caldwell’s wonderful garden! Elaine Norwood wants to be at every party and is always loads of fun!  Teresa Shaw’s children are always talkative and looking to help pass out the Northside News.  Every week or so, I call through our precinct captains to see how everything is going and I look forward to hearing how calm the students around Estelle Mabry have been this year, especially since we went individually to each of their houses to introduce ourselves at the beginning of the year.  I look forward to seeing Paris Miller and hearing her ideas for initiatives. She even connected me with an awesome lecture on race and privilege in Hillsborough that we went to together.  Anyone who comes to the area must meet her son, Jordan Amir, because he has to be the cutest two year old I have ever met!  I look forward to hearing from Jane Farrar and getting updates on how everything on Sunset is going and seeing if we can find tickets for the UNC sports games for her husband, Clarence Farrar.

However, as Hudson says, community is everyone who works, plays, lives, and worships in Northside!  And the folks I have gotten to know extend far beyond some of the above folks who live here.  I have played Spades with Corey Edwards and his wife, who pick up the leftover food from Heavenly Groceries every day for the farm they work at.  Whenever possible, I try to sneak down to Heavenly Groceries next door to continue to be inspired by the folks from the church who volunteer every day to make sure the food ministry runs!  Ms. Gladys is always looking on the bright side of things, even if the freezing rain made the Food Lions we get donations from lose power, “we just have to make lemonade,” and just move on because things are out of our control.  Ms. Billue is there every day and scolds me when I don’t visit for a while.  Mama Kat is the life of the party and always make sure every new student volunteer feels welcome.  Seeing Hollywood and Brentton joke around always lightens up the mood, and Ms. Lillian is the sweetest woman I have ever met!

These people I have been lucky enough to get to know are incredible and I haven’t even mentioned the Jackson Center staff!  Hudson always is so focused figuring out how to make sure everything flows, everything is getting done, yet simultaneously putting all of us on his back and giving us support.  Elizabeth has a way of helping facilitate though and just synthesizing what we say and making sure it makes sense!  Della always comes in, brings in an excitement and always has a million ideas for us to try! Kai is always good for advice if I want to see what she thinks of one of my ideas.  Jasmine is so good with Fusion Youth Radio.  The couple times I sit in the same room as they work, I am inspired by how she interacts with them and gets them thinking about their topic. And Brentton!  Not to downplay anyone else, but he is the person who keeps me going every day.  He always seems to be in a good mood and our friendly joking, and seeing his love for the work, regardless of how I feel each day, makes me happy to be there!

My time at the Jackson Center can best be described through these people I have been lucky enough to meet and I hope you all come by and hang out in Northside because nothing beats this community I have started to get to know!

Education, Archives and Documentary Initatives


Team Leader Reflection:

Pictured here is Rev. Albert Williams, the first African-American firefighter in Chapel Hill and one of the activists in the local civil rights movement, telling his story to 8th graders from Smith Middle School in St. Joseph CME Church.   St. Joseph’s was the place we were doing the presentation and the gathering spot for much of the local movement.  Reverend Williams shared his memories about “Big John” the owner of Colonial Drug store, the site of the first sit-ins in Chapel Hill.  With an eloquence that comes from struggle and wisdom, Rev. Williams shared “Big John was not a bad man.  In fact, Big John was a really good man who took care of people, but he was caught by the lines of race that had drawn for ourselves.  He was not prepared for us to step over them.  But we had to; it was time to.”

The students were rapt with his narrative and the intertwined nature of race, class, and division in the South.  They  asked: Did he realize that what he was doing was wrong later?  Why didn’t you just give up after all that trouble?  How did you decide what to do?  How did you keep going on?

This was a situation only possible with neighborhood leaders teaching their own stories, and is an example of why we do what we do.


We have really taken off with our Northside Elementary school partnership.  In their first year since, reopening we have led workshops or given tours to over 350 students between grades one and five.  This has been especially exciting because of our group of community tour guides that have helped share their amazing histories with the young students.   We also had community led tours of the 8th grade of Smith Middle School as well as different University classes.

In conjunction with these historical tours and workshops, we are getting closer to developing our Oral History Trust.  This would be an accessible way for anyone to listen to our oral history collection. We are close to finalizing approximately 20 interviews to make available through an online exhibition and in our own Yonni Chapman Peace and Justice Library for visitors. Please visit to hear these incredible histories.  We are excited to continue to expand our collection of Oral Histories and make sure they are available so that everyone can recognize the wonders that have happened in this place we call home.


Community Action Team


Team Leader Reflection:

Ms. Velma Perry has been a longtime leader in the neighborhood, but has recently had health issues leading to a stay at a rehab center.  For her to move back safely, there need to be certain physical repairs to her house.  Janie Alston, her cousin, advocated for Brush with Kindness to take on her house for repairs, and about two weeks before the repairs, they found the money to take it on.  In two weeks we were able to work with a Brush with Kindness to mobilize neighbors, high school students, people from partner non-profits and churches to come together and make a difference for Velma Perry!   Seeing people come together for someone who has been a longtime leader in our community is why we do what we do and I am excited that she can hopefully move home soon.


We have had a lot going on in the neighborhood!  We have continued our partnership with a Brush with Kindness and recruited for seven different days of volunteering.  With around ninety volunteers, we completed exterior repairs of three different Northside residents, mostly recently Effie Merritt’s home at 315 McDade Street.  These volunteers have been a mix of college students, high school volunteers, and long-term neighborhood residents and seeing the collaboration done under the direction of Brush with Kindness has been amazing.  If you are interested in being part of a future Brush with Kindness build, let us know.   In this vein, Zack Kaplan, one of our Bonner interns, is hard at work to develop more volunteer opportunities in the neighborhood, specifically at Northside Elementary, so that we can plug more University students into this community as members, rather than just transient disconnected residents.  He has reached out and already connected with fifteen students who have expressed interest in volunteering with Northside Elementary’s after school program.

In addition to plugging them into community work, we have also tried recruiting community-minded students into the existing student rentals in the neighborhood — shifting the pipeline of off-campus students to ones more likely to care about the fabric of our neighborhood.   We have also collaborated with UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill to pilot a new partnership to help build bonds between students and long-term residents.  This program has been labelled Neighborhood Outreach Coordinators.  These are students from the university with the explicit role of helping build relationships between students and neighbors. They have helped with Brush with Kindness recruitment, block party outreach and are also creating their own needs/interests assessment to help the next crew of Coordinators figure out how best to connect students and neighbors.

Before this partnership was created, the Jackson Center was beginning to have block events to help facilitate opportunities for neighbors to meet one another, or just hang out for the folks who were already friends.  On Lindsay Street, we had almost 20 people bring food and come out for a potluck in November.  Now that it is warm again we have a team of university students, who will be working hard to collaborate with students and long term residents to create more of these community building events!  We just had block events for the Starlite/ Sunset area, the Mcdade area, and the McMasters area of the neighborhood. Around forty folks showed up, and there were plenty of new faces that we had never met before.  We are excited to continue with different strategies to build community and create spaces for people to interact that normally do not exist.    

Additionally, we have a different group of students who are interviewing student residents on their relationships with their landlords and how knowledgeable they are on their rights as tenants and the existing town ordinances.  We hope this research will help us determine ways to better work with students and improve their housing situations in the neighborhood.

We have continued our housing efforts in the neighborhood, consistently using the Early Alert Network of neighbors to alert us when houses are coming up on the market so that we can connect them to our list of families who are interested in moving in through our Monthly Digest.   We are excited to continue strategizing with our compass group on how best to attract families into these houses to maintain the diversity and historical integrity of the neighborhood.

In an attempt to increase home preservation in the area, we have two different efforts going on.  Through partnership with Legal Aid and the Black Law Students Association, we have had 15 more wills done of people in our community!  In addition we are working with another group of law students on creating a Home Preservation Toolkit that can be used by neighbors to present the different options, beyond just wills, of what people can do with their home, based on their interests!

We are excited to continue our community action work built through listening and created with the collaboration of so many different parts of our community.  We are always looking for more folks to get involved, so please come by and join our efforts!


Civic Media Team

Team Leader Reflection: My biggest highlight this year happened after we aired our History is Dangerous Part 2 episode. One of our students expressed opinions about cultural appropriation and was criticized about it online. When the students defended the opinions and our program, they emphasized about how much they’d learned from our program and glad they had this platform to voice their opinion. This made me really proud of the work we do and highlighted the difference we are making!  


Fusion Youth Radio is continuing its successful run.  Already this year, we had an incredible show on Body Image in January, a February show on the theme of History is Dangerous and an episode discussing female rappers.  We completed our entire fall curriculum as planned!!!   We had many shows we hope that you all have had a chance to listen to.  If not you can find many of them uploaded on our website.

With the new semester coming up, we have had some transition, but a couple new faces are joining our team.  We are already thinking about next fall and how we can expand our recruitment efforts and include more high schools in the Chapel Hill, Carrboro area.  Additionally, we are extremely excited about our new partnership with Sacrificial Poets and the Beat Making Lab for our FYR programming.  This will allow us to collaborate with other youth programs, create more opportunities for our youth to learn from each other, and give them the responsibility of having to run a workshop/session for their peers.

Northside News has continued its monthly delivery to over 650 residents. We have featured stories about quality of housing issues in the neighborhood, focusing on different home repair efforts from groups such as a Brush with Kindness, as well as stories about the welcoming aura of Northside that so many claim as home.   We are excited to pioneer a new online version of our Northside News to keep more people informed monthly about the excited events and stories happening in our neighborhood!

Celebrating Home Team



Team Leader Reflection:           

Ms. Elaine Norwood, a long time Northside Resident, was the life of our Holiday Party.  She was chatting everyone up, and even borrowed a guitar to serenade other guests. Seeing her sing and play the guitar to folks sixty years her juniors emphasized why I do what I do.  The party demonstrated the potential of our new space and the uniqueness present where people with such different histories can come together and have such pure fun!!!

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We have now better settled into our new home at 512 W. Rosemary Street and have begun taking full advantage of the space.  In addition to creating systems to ensure that our space remains clean and welcoming to our staff and all of our constant visitors, it seems we always have folks in and out of the center.  We have hosted numerous school groups over the past few months, and many of you were part of the hundreds of people who were in and out for the Holiday Housewarming party we held in December!  In addition, we have celebrated the incredible people who make Heavenly Groceries work with home cooked shrimp and grits from Brentton, our own in-house chef.  We are working to continue to have a welcoming space with different ideas such as additional potlucks and card game nights.

We recognize that part of celebrating home is getting out to know those whom we share Northside.  With this in mind, we are creating different initiatives to help build community and give back.  We have had dozens of student delivering Northside News Papers to residents and getting out to know the community. Our resident chef is also our resident singer and he delivered song-a-grams to folks over Valentine’s Day.  We have been working with the University’s Neighborhood Outreach Coordinators to help determine fun ways to connect neighbors and students in the coming year, and we have multiple groups of student volunteers going out, knocking on doors and meeting folks in the neighborhood.

Finally, we are extremely excited for May Day, the large festival we have every year.  It will be Saturday, May 3rd.  We have been in touch with local restaurants who will be donating! We have students, neighbors, church members, and other parts of our community all coming together.  We will have kids games, food, dancing, and overall fun! We are trying to make this the biggest one yet, so if anyone has good ideas or wants to be part of the planning/ set up, please get in touch.  Everyone should put it into their calendars now because it is going to be incredible!!!  We want the new Jackson Center to be a place for anyone to stop by, so come visit us.

Deputy Director’s Report

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Students from Della’s Class performing Oral Histories! And the reaction to one of the performances!

Robert Revels, one of the original folks involved in our work at the Jackson Center from St. Joseph’s—and the lead singer of “We Shall Not be Moved” at every Jackson Center event –  brought his wife (newly wed!) by the other day.  She said, “Robert is always talking about how wonderful the Jackson Center is, so I wanted to come by and see it myself. ”  Mr. Revels responded, “The Jackson Center has made this a proud place for us to be again.”

This comment was incredibly moving to me:  the idea that our collective work has had a role in folks feeling pride in their continued part in making history, a history we have the privilege to witness and are so blessed to learn about and participate in together.

The photographs and images from this quarter tell the story:  1) Our housewarming party, where over a hundred folks gathered for food, fellowship, and the celebration of our new space.  Mrs. Jackson gave the housewarming blessing and Minister Campbell stated, “This is what diversity looks like!”   2)  Our civil rights workshops, in which hundreds of youth ranging from 1st grade up to college were not just learning about history but were interacting with the very people who took part in that history.  3) Our community organizing work, in which neighbors continue to implement strategies that utilize our collective power to bend this real estate market and make all feel welcomed here at the same time, 4) Home repair work in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, in which we have mobilized hundreds of volunteers—students and long-term neighbors—to help repair the homes of the very people who have given their lives to our community for generations.   5) Mr. Bynum embracing his grandson, Cameron, after Cameron performed a spoken word piece inspired by Mr. Bynum’s oral history at a Jackson Center/Sacrificial Poets event in December—an event that showcased the ways students were being transformed by the histories they were hearing.

This quarter has been filled with oral history performances and community gatherings, history tours by local civil rights leaders for hundreds of middle school students, wills clinics to ensure dozens of residents preserve family and community assets, radio shows on the prison system and female rappers, and so much more.  Most importantly, it’s been filled with the formation and renewal of relationships that are the crux of any work of justice in our communities.

As we approach our annual MayDay festival – a time when hundreds in our community gather for food, fellowship, history-making and witnessing— I hope you will join us as we celebrate another year of the strengthening of the very fabric of beloved community that continues to inspire and deepen our work.  We hope to see you here: May 3rd, 11 am-3 pm.


Please check out our May Day event this year. Hope everyone can make it out to this big day of community celebration.

Check out this jam from the queen of hip hop!

Here are a few photographs of the civil rights workshop and tours we hosted today with over 200 students from Smith Middle. Many thanks to community leaders who led the tours, and to the school’s namesakes Mr. and Mrs. Smith (pictured here) who came out in the cold to talk to students about their role in shaping education here in Chapel Hill!

Thoughts from Hudson:

A great job to Elizabeth, Jasmine, and Brentton who organized the workshops and taught youth about the local movement by bringing it to life. This is what intergenerational education is all about. One of the administrators from Smith Middle laughed as he said he knew Brentton as a middle school student there and loved seeing him do an “amazing job” presenting and leading the group in freedom songs

Happy Music Monday !!!

Check out this Angel Haze track in honor of Fusion Youth Radio’s show topic this month: female rappers.