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The Jackson Center has built community for years in Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods

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Marian Cheek Jackson Center staff and partners from Pee Wee Homes welcoming one of the center's newest Northside neighbors to the community. Photo courtesy of Hudson Vaughan.

Correction: The university's $3 million loan was to Self-Help Credit Union, the center did not receive any loan from UNC but is an active part in the utilization of that money to purchase community properties and facilitate a community Compass Group that makes decisions about what the center collectively does with those properties, including a range of affordable housing options with partners.   

The Marian Cheek Jackson Center’s first principle is to listen — listen to community members, their partnerships and local residents. 

“The first (principle) is listen and listen again,” said  Della Pollock, the center’s executive director. “And the 11th one is if all else fails, go back to number one.” 

Officially founded as a nonprofit in 2012, the center has grown and dedicated its purpose to building community in Chapel Hill's historic Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods. 

Kathy Atwater, the center’s community advocacy specialist, said she’s retired after 30 years of working for the state of North Carolina and has lived in the Northside Neighborhood her entire life.

“I remember growing up with neighbors that knew each other, sharing joys and sorrows, knowing who lived around you, which brought safety because you knew who your neighbors were,” she said. “The Jackson Center has become a part of the community, not just someone outside looking in."

The origins of the nonprofit stem from 2001, when Pollock and one of her colleagues began working to connect their UNC classes with the Northside neighborhood to conduct oral history interviews concerned with local desegregation. Some of the residents in the neighborhood didn’t want their oral histories held by the University. According to Pollock, one resident responded, “We’ve already given them the shirts on our backs. Why should we give them our histories too?” 

Since then, Pollock has collaborated and worked with many students through her course partnership where she also worked with then-student and now Senior Director Hudson Vaughan. 

Pollock and her students spent hours listening to oral histories and eventually created the student organization and community collaborative UNC NOW. The student organization worked with St. Joseph C.M.E. and eventually gathered over 50 oral histories. 

After this, the organization evolved and, in 2012, officially became what is now the Marian Jackson Center. Marian Cheek Jackson, the nonprofit’s namesake, is a historian at St. Joseph that taught the center that “without the past, you have no future.” 

Since its official founding, the nonprofit's initiatives include a K-12 curriculum, support for a food ministry, critical home repair and tax mitigation programs. Along with the center’s 45 partnerships with various agencies and organizations, they consistently work with the town of Chapel Hill and UNC on affordable housing issues. 

In 2015, the town of Chapel Hill, the University, Durham-based nonprofit Self-Help and the Center collaborated to launch the Northside Neighborhood Initiative. Through this collaboration, UNC provided a $3 million, no-interest, 10 year loan fund to local non-profit Self-Help, with administrative support from the Town of Chapel Hill, to establish the Northside land bank, which gives community control over properties.

The land bank allows Self Help, in partnership with the Jackson Center, to purchase, assemble, and convert property to serve a community purpose.  All decisions about the land bank properties are made by a community Compass Group. Pollock said the center and Self-Help have acquired 26 properties with the support of the loan and collaborative affordable housing funds from the town of Chapel Hill. 

“Community members who really want to keep their house community-centered now have an option to sell to the land bank rather than to a private investor,” Pollock said. 

Vaughan also said the center has had a "fantastic" partnership with the town and with UNC, but some of the center’s challenges lie within the generational transition that the Northside Neighborhood and Pine Knolls is currently undergoing. One of the center’s goals is to cultivate young leadership and continue to welcome new families into the neighborhood. 

“Raising up more community leaders, especially from the younger generation, and to just keep the vision going is the goal,” Atwater said. “(Also) to get people more invested and to keep it as a family friendly family oriented community.”

Pollock said she hopes in the future that the center continues to fall increasingly into a supporting role that continues to facilitate community involvement for the Northside and Pine Knolls community and wants to see the center entirely community-led. 


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