What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Northside? Close-knit and neighborly? Welcoming? Crime-ridden and poor schools? Dilapidated? Where you grew up or where you currently reside often dictates your response to that question.
I was born and raised on the Northside, and after graduating from the University of Florida, I purchased a home and chose to raise my daughter here. For those of us who grew up or live on the Northside, more specifically the Northwest community, we feel that our neighborhood is regularly viewed in a negative and often times inaccurate light. Oftentimes, the media reports evoke imagery of crime-ridden, drug-infested, dilapidated and blighted neighborhoods, incapable of ever generating productive citizens.
That is just not the case. The truth of the matter is that the Northside has much more to offer than what negative media reports in the daily local news cycle show.
In 2011 and 2013, three students from Raines and Ribault High Schools were awarded Gate Millennium Scholarships. In 2010, Tony Hansberry, current student at FAMU and former student at Darnell Cookman, developed a project that showed how to reduce surgical time for hysterectomies. People are calling him the “next Charles Drew.”
And now, Carter G. Woodson Elementary School, an “F” school in 2007, is an “A” school thanks to its fearless leader and 2013 EVE Education Award winner Cheryl Quarles-Gaston.
Our businesses boast accomplishments, too. Jerome Brown’s Barbeque and Wings Restaurant, located on Edgewood Avenue, makes sauce that is sold in 14 Sam’s Club stores, and the manufacturing plant on Commonwealth Avenue will be employing 56 individuals once they officially launch operations.
Despite these achievements, I often hear people say that Northside schools are incapable of producing useful members of society and should simply be closed down. These are the same schools that have produced countless doctors, lawyers, educators, elected officials, entertainers, professional athletes, entrepreneurs and many more that have made worthwhile contributions, not only to the city of Jacksonville, but the entire state of Florida and even the United States.
Yes, there is crime and blight on the Northside, however there are also many local, family-owned businesses and restaurants that have remained resilient and continue to serve our community after several decades, such as Isaiah Rumlin-Nationwide Insurance, J.E. Fralin & Sons mortuary, George Barnes Realty, Mr. K Bar-B-Que & Seafood, Nesbit Restaurant, Clear Image Printing Graphix, Available Pest Control and countless more.
Even with those successes, there unfortunately were some favorites that had to close their doors. The Northside was previously home to Skate City, a neighborhood hotspot for roller-skating, and a drive-in movie theater off of Soutel Drive.
Years ago, the Northside area, much like Downtown, had an abundance of local businesses and was booming with entertainment. Unfortunately, as it stands today, the lack of infrastructure is hindering new and existing businesses from coming into the area. Much like Downtown has languished, we have seen the same happen on the Northside. In the last year or two, we have seen a buildup to a Downtown renaissance with many people who don’t live Downtown supporting it; we hope to raise awareness about our Northside neighborhoods and bring the city together to rally around a Northside renaissance as well.
This is why my friend and business partner Leandrew Mills III and I developed the Northside LOVE Arts & Vendors Market and partnered with Jacksonville City Councilman Reginald Brown. LOVE stands for Lifting Our Various Enterprises. Arnett Green, a Northside community stakeholder and retired businessman, coined this acronym during his work on many past efforts to exemplify the imperative of shopping locally and keeping dollars from quickly exiting the community. It is our hope that with Northside LOVE, we can illustrate the viability of our community and raise awareness of the challenges facing the area.
The concept of the Northside LOVE Arts & Vendors Market is a basic one: Provide a neighborhood marketplace that offers fresh food options and showcases local businesses, nonprofits, artists, entertainers and educational and health programming that is beneficial for both the community resident (consumer) and the service provider and/or business owner.
Northside LOVE will be located along the Kings Road/Soutel Drive corridor, an area that is located in Northwest Jacksonville, which is in City Council District 10 and Duval County Health Department’s Zone 1. Research and history has shown that this predominately African-American community has a higher propensity of crime (with two of the communities, Sherwood Forest and Harborview, having a 25 percent higher violent and property crime rate than the rest of the city), as well as higher obesity rates among high school students (19.2 percent of self-reported student obesity in HZ1 versus 11.9 percent countywide), compared to other communities throughout the city.
This community also lacks economic development, having a very limited offering of businesses such as restaurants, retail stores and entertainment complexes. We feel that the lack of resources and amenities in the area have contributed to the disproportionate crime rate and huge health disparities.
According to the city of Jacksonville’s Office of Economic Development website, the redevelopment of Downtown and Northwest Jacksonville, which is heavily concentrated with African-Americans, is a high priority for the city and is critical to creating a seamless community. Investment in these areas can help revitalize blighted communities and enhance the quality of life for their residents (through entertainment and arts) by acting as a catalyst for economic development and providing them with amenities that can deter crime, lower obesity rates, and allow residents to tap into newly located businesses that may not have been easily accessible in their communities.
This can be seen with the recent allocation of nearly $11 million in funding for Mayor Alvin Brown’s Reinvestment Plan, as well as with more than $20 million invested into the community by LISC’s EPIC Communities Program. However, the mayor’s reinvestment plan focuses $9 million of that funding into Downtown with the remaining $2 million to be distributed throughout the rest of the city, while the Epic Communities’ funding reaches only 10 Northwest Jacksonville communities. Due to limited dollars, both initiatives aren’t currently reaching one of the areas most critical to Northwest Jacksonville’s economic development: the Kings Road/Soutel Drive Corridor. The Northside LOVE event is an attempt to raise awareness and investment dollars for the area, so that we can aid the mayor in taking Jacksonville to the next level.
With Northside LOVE, we want to expose the entire Jacksonville community to the products, services and talent that is often overlooked coming from the Northside. We also want to bring in businesses and talent from other parts of town to participate in the market. It’s time our city starts building bridges and tearing down walls. It is our hope that this event serves as a catalyst to increasing the dialogue and interaction between residents of Jacksonville.
We want to bring together not just the Northside community, but also all of Jacksonville to work together to revitalize the area. Come and get some LOVE!
Nixon is a Northside native and co-founder of Northside LOVE Arts & Vendors Market.