Inspiration: Afromation Avenue aims to make West Philly feel seen and inspired

Brittni Jennings (left) and Kristin Kelly (right), the lead artists behind the Afromation Avenue art installation, stand in front of a sign they designed in Malcolm X Park. Their sign reads, “We Have Power If We Allow It!” Credit: Nate File

By Gillian Ramirez, Alliance Intern from the University of California, San Diego

Special thanks to the Philadelphia Inquirer for this uplifting piece. Lining the streets of West Philly are 25 street signs with positive affirmations that are part of a larger conversation about anti-violence. Marian Bailey, one of the artists who’s a part of the installation, had a conversation with a resident about how “community-based groups had been the ones leading violence prevention efforts in West Philly, not the city or the police. He wanted his neighbors, including the younger generations, to understand that they had the power to keep each other safe.”

High school educators Brittni Jennings and Kristin Kelly are the project creators for the installation. After seeing the effect George Floyd’s unjustifiable murder in 2020 had on their students, they were compelled to implement daily positive affirmations in their classes, titled Daily Afromations. They then collaborated with Mural Arts Philadelphia to create this project. Jennings and Kelly chose prominent sites for the posters, ensuring “that the project was honoring the folks that were here first and hopefully will stay here as things change.”

Some of the art signs say, “Keep the peace at home and in the streets” and “Black Ownership = Liberation”, conveying powerful messages of kindness and freedom. Bailey talked with community members about what ideas they wanted to have expressed through her art. Choosing heavy topics to address is meaningful for the residents she wanted to inspire them and make connections to their own lives.

They conducted surveys among over 50 West Philly residents asking, “How does your community make you feel? What are some of your favorite memories of the neighborhood? What encouraging words would you lend to your community?” Their answers were then used to create pieces that reflect their sentiments and spotlight the locations chosen.

One example includes the picture above with the two women founders with fists raised in the air and the quote “We Have Power If We Allow It!” This sign was inspired by Emory Douglas who was the main illustrator for the Black Panther Party’s newspaper.

The signs are intended to become a permanent part of the West Philly community. Artist Lindsay Bedford expresses, “I think what we provided brings a bit of happiness, just something special and nice to see, and I hope it at least makes people stop to think and feel a bit of pride in their home and see something beautiful.”

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