Running on faith and passion, Deone McWilliams finds her way

Teri Saylor

Special to Publishers' Auxiliary

Mar 1, 2021

Northside Vibes by Flavor News CEO Deone McWilliams proudly holds one of her first issues after she started publishing.
January 2021 issue of the Northside Vibes

A week before Christmas, Deone McWilliams was having a great day. Celebrating a decade-long career as a newspaper publisher, she was launching a new talk show and preparing other ventures that would help her fulfill her mission to bring good news to her readers, fans and followers in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and beyond.

Northside Vibes, a “good news” newspaper, is now entering its 7th year in business, McWilliams says, and she credits her grandson NyRiian Jiggetts with giving her the idea that would change her life.

Back in 2010, Jiggetts was a precocious 7-year-old when he told McWilliams he was tired of hearing bad news all the time and worried the news was scaring his little friends. He implored his grandmother to write a newspaper filled with good news. She came through in 2010 and not only created her first newspaper, The Flavor News, but she gave Jiggetts the majestic title of founder.

“I was so excited about starting the newspaper, and I wanted to keep my promise to my grandson,” she said in a phone interview. “I felt like this was God’s assignment for my life, and the newspaper was a way for me to use my talents.”

At the time, McWilliams was languishing in a corporate day job and trying to run her newspaper at the same time. Her sense of responsibility won out over passion, and under pressure, she put her beloved Flavor News on pause.

“This was in 2010,” she said. “I had responsibilities. I was a wife, I was a mother and I was a grandmother, and I felt I had to stay in corporate America.”

In 2014, the deaths of seven family members in one year caused McWilliams to reset her priorities.

Suddenly the big house, sports car, nice clothes, expensive hairstyles and her corporate job were not enough.

“I felt like those deaths punched all the wind out of me,” she said. “And I knew I had a promise to keep to my grandson.”

So McWilliams did what anyone with newsprint in their soul would do.

She started another newspaper.

She conducted research, took a leap of faith, and launched the Northside Vibes in an underserved area of north Richmond, where she felt she could help revitalization efforts and shine a spotlight on the good news coming from that community.

McWilliams quickly learned that faith may lead you in the right direction, but it won’t necessarily pay the bills. After leaving corporate America, she lost everything — the house and her possessions. She swapped her sports car for her mother’s pickup truck, let her hair go natural, and whittled her bank account down to $22. She opened an office in a closet at a friend’s literacy academy. She spent her days standing on street corners handing out flyers in her community announcing a good-news newspaper was coming and scouting out potential advertising clients.

The hard work paid off. After starting Northside Vibes, she quickly saw success and outgrew her closet office. She started a podcast, accepted speaking engagements and sought out other ventures.

Today, she occupies three offices, including a corporate headquarters, which houses the business that carries the flag of her first newspaper — Flavor News.

Her grandson, now 17, is still listed as the company’s founder.

At the age of 58, after a lifetime searching, McWilliams feels like she has finally found her north star.

As a child growing up in Richmond, McWilliams lived in the magical world of books.

“I was that child who couldn’t wait for the bookmobile to stop off in my neighborhood,” she said.

Both her parents were professionals. Her father, a carpenter and an entrepreneur, encouraged her independent spirit. But McWilliams didn’t excel in school. Maybe she was too precocious, too eager to display her passion for her dream of becoming an entrepreneur at a time when girls were encouraged to seek out careers as nurses or teachers, she said.

By the time McWilliams reached the 11th grade, she had enough of traditional school and convinced her parents to let her drop out and get her GED. She went on to earn an associate degree from a local community college and embarked on a variety of careers as a model at Nieman Marcus, a legal assistant and a public relations specialist. She worked for awhile as a career coach and owned a talent agency.

“Throughout my life, I knew I was blessed with a multitude of gifts and talents, but I was lost in corporate America,” she said.

At the Northside Vibes, McWilliams does it all herself, from selling ads, reporting the news, shooting the photos and designing the pages to handling distribution. The tabloid-sized newspaper, which has grown from 8 to 12 pages, comes out the first Friday each month and is distributed free in as many locations as McWilliams can put it. She even distributes copies out of the little free library boxes located around town. She sends copies around the country and overseas, and it is also available for free online.

Her business survived the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic with help from the Small Business Administration that provided grants and a business coach. She admits her biggest challenges are similar to those other newspapers face — convincing her clients to sign annual advertising contracts. As she becomes increasingly more established, ad sales are improving, but the long-term commitments that provide more security remain elusive.

“I have no problem selling ads month-to-month, but I really need advertisers to lock in for a year at a time,” she said.

So far in her short history as a publisher, she has had lucrative opportunities to sell the Northside Vibes and has turned them down. For McWilliams, selling the newspaper is the akin to abandoning her community. She becomes emotional and gets choked up when she describes what her readers mean to her.

She recalled the story of a reader who contacted her to tell her about her grandfather who was about to celebrate his 100th birthday.

“In all his 100 years on Earth, he had never, ever been featured in a newspaper or on television or on the radio, so I put a picture of him celebrating his 100th birthday party on the front page,” McWilliams said. “He passed away two or three months later.”

She took a long pause to compose her feelings.

As the future continues to unfold, McWilliams is looking forward to harnessing the power of her podcast and her talk show, anchored by the newspaper she loves dearly.

“As I have said, this is more than just a newspaper. It’s God’s assignment for my life, and I take great pride in every single supporter, every single person, every child traveling on their journeys,” she said. “This newspaper means the world to me.”

Teri Saylor can be contacted at


Six tips to keep going in the face of adversity

McWilliams offers advice to others who risk it all for their passion projects:

  1. Commit to your journey. Stay focused. Our path will have roadblocks and detours, but we must find our way along the path.
  2. Our journey is like a sports car with a straight shift. You start out in first gear, but you cannot be afraid to build momentum and never slow down, because just like that straight–shift car, if you let off the gas and the clutch, the car’s going to stop, so just keep the faith and keep going.
  3. Surround yourself with like-minded people — not necessarily in the same industry, but people who are as committed to their passions and pursuits as you are.
  4. Commit to staying in the game and seeing it through. Use the entire alphabet if you need to, from Plan A to Plan Z.
  5. Start each day with prayer. Exercise faith over fear.
  6. Hard work pays off.