“You are precious,” “I’m beautiful and deserve the best” and “Get the kinks out of your mind” are just some of the words on new street signs in West Philadelphia.
These signs are part of “Afromation Avenue”, a collection of positive street signs designed to uplift the community. The project is overseen by James Rhoads School teacher Christine Kelly and Constitution Middle School teacher Brittney Jennings.
“It’s a collection of positive affirmations, street signs, made by the community and for the community,” Kelly said. “We wanted to create a space for reflection and conversation while honoring the cultural identity of the community. It’s about celebrating black joy, self-love, and community.”
The educators, who have been best friends since seventh grade, said the idea for “Afromation Avenue” came to fruition after the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
While their students worked through what had happened, the duo came up with a way to celebrate black joy by writing two daily books of affirmation.
“Our school communities have struggled to unpack their feelings and emotions about police brutality in black communities,” Kelly said. “We’ve seen a lot of frustration, grief and anger.
“We wanted to create a space of joy for our students. We have been able to do this by curating thoughtful proclamations to encourage and empower our students. Our series of positive affirmations, Daily Afromation, is about promoting self-love, black culture, and voice,” Kelly added.
Last year, educators decided to take their affirmation series further by developing the Afromation Avenue public art initiative. Jennings said they wanted to start the initiative in West Philadelphia because of the connections they have with the community.
“Christine grew up in West Philly,” Jennings said. “We’re both teachers from Philadelphia, and a lot of my students are from West Philly.
“West Philly is gentrifying, too,” she said. “The whole point of Afromation Avenue is to create our own and affirm black voices in places that are being colonized.
“We want to make sure that tourists or people who come to the area know that there were communities here before them. We want to celebrate the people who live here and not feel like they’re being pushed out, even if they’re being pushed out,” Jennings added.
Signs can be seen throughout West Philadelphia at Malcolm X Park, the 52nd Street Commercial Corridor and the Laura Sims Skate House, which is the first rink designed by an African-American.
Each area where the signs are located was chosen because of its historical significance to West Philadelphia’s African American community. The signs were designed by faculty and local artists Marian Bailey and Lindsey Bedford.
“We have 25 signs with 15 original signs, however the signs have duplicates.” Jennings said. “Each artist was responsible for designing five signs.
“Our projects are in Malcolm X Park,” she said. “Lindsey Bedford has done projects along the 52nd Street corridor, and Marianne Bailey’s projects are on display along Laura Sims.
“All the duplicates are along the 52nd Street corridor because there is a lot of traffic there. We wanted to make sure that people could see each artist’s work related to the project,” she added.
To get the community involved in the project, the duo spent the summer hosting events and talking to neighbors in West Philadelphia about their experiences in the neighborhood.
“In addition to canvassing and talking to people on the street and in the park, we also conducted an online survey,” Kelly said.
“It was a cross between curating our own based on our experiences interacting with the community and then culminating that curation with the words of the people we interacted with during these social and engaging events. The affirmations used on the signs really spoke to what the community in West Philly was saying,” Kelly added.
“Afromation Avenue” is made possible through a partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia, Crown Publications Co. and Streets Dept.
The project will support the city’s Read by 4th early literacy movement, the school district’s social-emotional learning and further city beautification initiatives.
“The school district is focused on social emotional learning, and it helped students learn about the concept of positive affirmations because they have to first affirm themselves,” Jennings said.
“The signs will be another way for students to do that,” she said. “We hope that the students will be encouraged by this and that it will help them to look at themselves and the people around them in a different way.”
In the future, Kelly and Jennings hope to expand Afromation Avenue to other areas of Philadelphia and across the country.
“The long-term plan is to expand to other parts of Philadelphia, as well as partner with other public art initiatives in predominantly black neighborhoods across the country,” Jennings said. “We hope that Afromation Avenue can become a national and international initiative.”