City, community members strive to help underdeveloped community

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City, community members strive to help underdeveloped community


North End, Barbershops


Article on the history and current state of the North End and community development in the African-American community there. Photo Caption: Seon Williams, from Champaign, cuts the hair of Christopher Smith, 25, from Chicago, at The Whip Hair Designs in northern Champaign on Thursday. Williams is an active leader in the area, advising local youths and working toward community development.
Ned Mulka The Daily Illini


Jill Disis




Daily Illini


23 April 2009

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Seon Williams has worked in his barbershop, The Whip, 904 N. Fourth St., in Champaign, for 10 years. Throughout that time, many have said he has become more a brother than a barber to the members of the North Champaign community.

“A lot of things that go on in the community directly affect my customers,” Williams said.

The community of North Champaign, however, has dealt with a variety of economic and social hardships over the years that have proved detrimental to the community members, according to a report developed by the Champaign Neighborhood Services Advisory Board.

The report concludes that the median property value of all owner-occupied homes in Bristol Place, a neighborhood community in the area, is less than one-third the median property value of owner-occupied households in the rest of the City of Champaign: a value of $43,303 compared to $138,000.

Development in the community is also below acceptable levels, Williams said.

“I haven’t seen any redevelopment in the area since the Douglass Center in 1977,” he added.

The Douglass Community Center, located within the Champaign Park District, is a fitness facility first constructed in 1945 to serve the predominately black community of North Champaign, according to the Champaign Park District Web site.
Greg Skaggs, Champaign’s community development specialist, said there was a change of values for people within the community throughout the years.

“When a child gets home, there’s not always a parent around and they’re home alone,” Skaggs said.

Skaggs said there has also been a decrease in respect for authority in the area.
However, the problem extends beyond just redevelopment, Williams said.
He said he thought the City of Champaign needed to “allow the African American community to be at the table” for a more accurate assessment of the problems in the area.

“Don’t create something around us that’s not going to be for us,” he added. Despite these issues, Champaign County cannot do a lot for some areas — especially the Shadow Wood trailer park community, which is privately owned — he added.

Skaggs said the city is working on a Bristol Park Neighborhood Redevelopment Plan, which will aim for long-term development of the area bordered by Neil Street, Bradley Street, and Interstate 74, which includes North Champaign.
Robby Boyer, a graduate student and intern in the Neighborhood Services Department, said the biggest problems include after-school and summer recreation for neighborhood children, aging and unmaintained housing and litter in the neighborhood. Crime and gangs also remain a concern, he added. If the plan is approved, community members will see results as early as next year, Skaggs said.

On the University level, plans are being made to increase awareness of problems in the community. The Illinois Student Senate approved appropriations for a documentary detailing the economic and social situations in North Champaign, said Zenobia Ravji, graduate student and student senator.

“It just kind of hit me,” Ravji said. “We have a lot of students who don’t know, and this is literally four blocks from Green Street.”

Ravji said a documentary would be the easiest way to portray the injustices in the community to the rest of the campus.

“We live in a bubble,” Ravji said. “You can spend your entire college career just on campus and never go beyond those boundaries.”

Within the school district, other plans and initiatives are being followed up on, said Kristine Chalifoux, member of the Unit 4 School Board that serves North Champaign.

“I think they’re doing extremely well considering most of them have a very low socioeconomic makeup for their students,” she added. “Data across the rest of the country show that has an impact on student learning.”

Other community members are working on their own solutions to problems facing the area. Aaron Ammons, co-founder of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice, said the group has been working for the community for almost five years.

“The mission and purpose is community organizing,” Ammons said. “We represent the underserved and forgotten about.”

Ammons said the group also is reaching out to citizens and trying to instill citizenship education, encourage political involvement and strengthen advocacy and the needs of the people.

One of the first projects for the group was preventing the Champaign-Urbana Police Department from purchasing Tasers, he added.

Brian Dolinar, graduate student, said the group had “put up legal defense for a kid that was a victim of police brutality.” Dolinar declined to comment further on the incident.

Williams said he also works on community projects helping the youth and adults of the community.

“I’ve tried to unify the community by bringing the old and young together,” Williams said. “I’m trying to create a different vision for them.”




Jill Disis, "City, community members strive to help underdeveloped community," in eBlack Champaign-Urbana, Item #389, https://eblackcu.net/portal/items/show/389 (accessed March 24, 2023).

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