Kristin Kelly and Brittni Jennings at Vernon Park. (GIH | Rasheed Ajamu)

Afromation Avenue, an art project that made waves in West Philadelphia last year, is now expanding its horizons to Germantown. Founded by Kristin Kelly and Brittni Jennings, Afromation Avenue is an initiative harnessing the captivating appeal of street art to produce positive affirmations throughout predominantly Black communities in Philadelphia. The extension of this venture into Germantown marks a meaningful milestone in its steady journey.

One of the affirmations resonates with the message, “Movement is Life,” echoing the belief that remaining active and engaged with the community is vital for personal growth and collective strength. Another impactful message reads, “I am because we are. We are because I am,” embodying the idea that the community is inherently interconnected, preserving space for past, present, and future generations.

“The premise of our project is always to amplify Black voice,” says Jennings, “and there are so many of us that live in the city of Philadelphia, and the outskirts of the city of Philadelphia, Germantown included, where we don’t really have or see ourselves in art. We do know buildings and a lot of other initiatives, but I don’t think we have an equitable amount of art that reflects the people of the space, specifically the original people of this space, Black and Brown folks. So we’re hoping that this art speaks to them in the way that we’ve intended.”

The project seeks to plant the seeds of joy, encourage a sense of ownership, and promote community collaboration for Black residents. The project’s affirmations draw inspiration from themes rooted in African spirituality, African-American folklore and vernacular, references to influential artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Emory Douglas, as well as profound phrases from African-American heritage.

This year’s installation in Germantown is notably larger, substantially increasing from the West Philadelphia installation. “It’s a level-up,” says Kelly. “We have a lot more signs. We installed 25 the first time. Now we’re at 42. Certainly, a lot more space to work with.”

As educators, both Kelly and Jennings deeply desire to make a positive impact, particularly on young minds. Kelly elaborated on the educational potential of the project: “Our aspiration is to evoke a sense of joy. We are particularly eager to inspire the youth through these signs. These signs can play a pivotal role in enhancing literacy by prompting questions like, ‘What does that say, mom?’ This not only promotes reading skills but also fosters self-love.”

The Afromation Avenue signs are thoughtfully placed in areas like Vernon Park and Maplewood Mall to align with the cultural significance of each location and promote inclusivity and empowerment among residents. Jennings and Kelly emphasize the deep connection between affirmations and their installation sites, ensuring the signs resonate with the community’s values and aspirations. This strategic placement aims to foster a collective sense of identity and pride within Germantown.

Curator for Mural Arts Conrad Benner shared the backstory of this project’s start, describing how it emerged. “This came through Mural Arts’ application process. Mural Arts reviews project submissions periodically, and this one caught their attention as something truly intriguing,” Benner says.  He says it breathes fresh life into the realm of public art within the city. 

Benner emphasized the critical role of community engagement in Afromation Avenue. He believes that public art, such as Afromation Avenue, can set a “butterfly effect” in motion, positively transforming someone’s day and perhaps even influencing their overall perspective.

He continues, “I love the way that Brittni and Kristin have approached this project. This doesn’t just happen. This isn’t just a couple artists in their rooms painting what they think people want to see. It’s critical to their process to be in the community for a long time. So you know, they were [in West Philly] for many weekends. And with this project, it was basically all summer, different events here and there. The way they curated it, which I thought was really smart, was even getting at least one of the artists from the neighborhood.”

Neighborhood street artist NOMAD is one of the two artists, aside from Jennings and Kelly, who contributed to this project. He previously mentioned that he found the art avenue essential as it allows neighbors to see things they want to see posted around the neighborhood.

During Afromation Avenue’s community engagement in Germantown, the team collected poignant anecdotes from residents illuminating the neighborhood’s past and hopes for the future. Kelly highlighted the sentiments expressed by residents, saying, “We heard a lot of folks talking about nostalgia for block parties, for community gatherings, and those being largely absent due to violence, unfortunately.” Residents’ deep connection to the neighborhood left a lasting impression on the Afromation Avenue team. These anecdotes served as a source of inspiration for the project.

Benner expressed, “I have such a deep affinity for art, particularly public art [because] it can awaken individuals when they might be in the midst of a mundane routine, whether walking through a park or going about their day. Signs like these, artworks like these, can maybe just make you think. And whether that’s happy or it reminds you of something or it makes you think of the future, it’s just important to have those moments of reflection and pause.”

In Germantown, the project serves as a noteworthy milestone, embodying the welcoming and inclusive nature of the community. The co-founders genuinely appreciate the Germantown community for their feedback and shared vision. Their message is clear: “We hope you enjoy.”

You can personally experience the newly unveiled art installation on Wednesday, October 25, at 11 a.m. Jennings and Kelly will be on hand to provide attendees with a guided tour of the signs commencing at Vernon Park.