Return to Headlines

Carrboro High School Students Explore Local History

CHCCS emphasizes community engagement. This is evidenced largely throughout the district’s strategic plan. 

Civics students in Jamie Fernandez-Schendt’s classes at Carrboro High School (CHS) are making that concept a reality. They have spent much of September analyzing the topic “Citizenship and the American Identity.” The unit included two workshops led by staff from the Marian Cheek Jackson Center (MCJC), a non-profit hub of activism on Rosemary Street, dedicated to preserving the future of historically black neighborhoods in Chapel Hill.

Fernandez-Schendt said, “During the first workshop and the days after, we spent time talking through the idea of citizenship as an ACTION (in addition to as a title/legal status), which is how the 'activism' piece of the Jackson Center fit in. From there, we also discussed varying notions of 'American culture' and the 'American dream.' We had discussions about the centrality of home ownership to the American dream, various obstacles to the dream, and the ongoing relevance of the concept. The connection to the Jackson Center workshop was then framed from the lens of gentrification being both an expression of the American dream for some, while also being a barrier to that dream for others.”

During the second workshop on the evolution of gentrification in the Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods, students heard about investors and “persuasion letters,” cash in hand offers and rising property taxes. They learned that 900 square foot homes that had stayed in families for generations were bought and converted to 3,000 square foot rentals for five or six UNC students.

When George Barrett, associate director of MCJC, described the plight of an 83 year old woman who had lived in Northside her entire life, students seemed to pay closer attention. “This woman lived next door to a group of young men from UNC who would have 3:00 a.m. ragers, and she’d deal with the noise every weekend.” He described how she would wake up early each morning after the late nights and pick up the red Solo cups strewn across her property. She ended up in the hospital for anxiety-related heart problems, and finally moved out of state to live with a relative. With that single narrative, Barrett’s lesson on gentrification and its negative fallout landed for many students in the class.

MCJC presents to CHS civics Barrett talked about the recent history of housing development and proliferation of rental properties, and he showed Northside/Pine Knolls maps from 2000, 2011 and 2018; the neighborhood residents’ properties were colored in purple, and the rentals were red. By 2018, the map showed an explosion of red.

Barrett said that while property developers, many from outside the area, pushed the narrative of “cleaning up the neighborhood,” action groups from UNC built advocacy networks for homeowners. With UNC grants to revitalize existing properties, residents received help for home repairs and taxes. The Jackson Center helped organize community meetings and home retention workshops. The long-standing neighborhood tradition of local organizing in Northside and Pine Knolls became re-energized. 

Lorie Clark, high school equity specialist, attended the presentation at CHS and said, “I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the workshop by the Jackson Center as they presented information regarding the gentrification of the historic Northside community.  As a long-time resident, there was information shared that I was not even aware of. Students were engaged and appeared interested in learning how to preserve the historic legacy of the Black community.”

Fernandez-Schendt said, “As a whole, much of what we wanted to accomplish was to give students an opportunity to think more about how activism fits into 'citizenship' and give them tangible ways that they can see that concept playing out in their community. The gentrification focus was then a natural outgrowth of that, based on the work the Jackson Center does.”

The MCJC was founded in 2008, and the organization’s outreach programs and preservation efforts have grown dramatically over the years. The Learning Across Generations educational curriculum is offered to any classroom, K-12, to extend and enrich CHCCS students’ understanding of issues from the impact of civil rights activism during the 1960’s to current challenges facing Northside residents. Among the six workshops offered are Freedom Walk and Citizen/Action, the workshop presented at CHS.

Fernandez-Schendt said, “As for the impact on our students, I definitely would say even in small ways it has started happening. Some parents at our Open House shared that their students came home and shared what they learned about the Chapel Hill community and the Northside community specifically. One student said he was able to have a conversation with his father about gentrification.”

The MCJC website states, “We want to bring Northside history to every classroom and to give every student the opportunity to visit Northside and learn first-hand about civil rights landmarks.” Director of Education and Communication, Andrea Wuerth, said, “If you teach more of this kind of history, you build better relationships. So many kids drive past here and have no idea the community has a vibrant past. We are getting the history on the radar.”