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Black Voices At The Center Of New Art Project In West Philly

July 19, 2022

Guest Post by Kristin Kelly and Brittni Jennings

As two Black Philadelphia-based teachers we always encourage our students to “celebrate yourself on a daily.” After the murder of George Floyd we started a small initiative to create spaces of joy for our students. Our school communities were struggling with unpacking their feelings and emotions regarding police brutality against Black bodies, and we wanted to reaffirm to our students that they matter. We chose to redirect the grief, rage, and frustration of our communities and pour into Black joy curating thoughtful proclamations to encourage and empower our learners. Our positive affirmation series, Daily Afromations is a means to promote self-love, Black culture, and voice.  

In August of 2021, we took it a step further and developed a public arts initiative “Afromation Avenue.”  Afromation Avenue is a collection of curated positive affirmation street signs personalized by predominantly Black/African American communities throughout the city of Philadelphia. We want to create spaces for reflective thought and conversation while honoring the cultural identity of each community. Street signs are used to guide and regulate the traffic flow of people; they assist in helping others get from one familiar place to another. Afromation Avenue lends itself as a social emotional guide in hopes of cultivating spaces where community members feel encouraged, valued, and respected.

Afromation Avenue will pilot in the West Philadelphia area in three locations. Each area was chosen because of its historical significance to West Philly’s Black community.  

1) Malcolm X Park, named after the influential human rights leader, is the epicenter for community engagement. The park continues to uplift the community by offering access to a wide variety of resources, activities, and events. 

2) 52nd Street Commercial Corridor, also known as “the strip” was once a center for Black arts and culture and is still home to many Black entrepreneurs. The Buy Black movement has encouraged reinvestment in this area in hopes to strengthen the Black dollar.

3) Laura Sims Skate House was the first U.S. ice skating rink designed by an African American architect for a predominantly Black neighborhood at a time when many doubted the necessity of Black children ice skating. Laura Sims continues to offer equitable access to ice skaters in the neighborhood.

Afromation Avenue supports the city’s “Read By 4th” early literacy movement, the School District of Philadelphia’s social emotional learning focus, and furthers the city’s beautification initiatives. We hope to drive tourism to less visited areas in order to continue the strengthening of communities struggling economically. We welcome a celebration of Black joy, self-love, and community!

Through a partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia and Media Manager, Conrad Benner of Streets Dept, we have been purposeful in seeking to work with two local Black artists, Marian Bailey and Lindsay Bedford. Marian is a self-taught illustrator and muralist. Her work has been exhibited in public spaces such as East Market in Center City Philadelphia, Terminal D of the Philadelphia Airport, and The People’s Fridge located outside of Mina’s World Cafe. Lindsay Bedford is a Mural Arts Black Artist Fellow and is currently exhibiting work with the Percy St. Project. Her work has also been seen in the Philadelphia Ballet, “Behind the Stage Door.” 

In efforts to engage the community with our arts initiative, we are hosting two events, “Community Speaks.” Our first event will be at Malcolm X Park ( Saturday, July 23rd from 11:00am-2:00pm) and our second event will take place at Cobbs Creek Park (between Laura Sims and the Recreation Center–Saturday, July 30th from 11:00am-2:00pm). Afromation Avenue is a collaborative arts project and we want to hear from you! Join us for a day of connection and conversation.

If you’re a resident of West Philly and unable to attend either event, we’ve compiled a series of survey questions allowing you to share your experiences in your neighborhood (survey available here). While the affirmation street signs are for everyone to read, enjoy, and feel inspired by, this project is geared specifically toward members of the diaspora, we are looking for Black/African American community members to participate.

Through this initiative we want to amplify Black voices, cultivate and empower community, and inspire action. As writer Roxane Gay once said, “no one is coming to save us” so we must save ourselves by curating these spaces. Afromation Avenue is more than an intellectual exercise for visitors, it is a message from the neighborhood to the neighborhood. These positive affirmations will serve as a reminder to Black lives we are loved–our voices matter–our lives matter. 

We will not continue to allow others to create images of us, only we can define how we see ourselves.

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