In October, teachers Kristin Kelly and Brittni Jennings launched Afromation Avenue in West Philadelphia. The project creates personalized affirmation signs in Philly’s Black communities to strengthen social-emotional growth and boost tourism. This year, the duo will expand the avenue to Germantown.
Kelly & Jennings’ first developed this project after George Floyd’s murder in 2020 to create spaces of joy for their students. Kelly and Jennings used daily affirmations to promote self-love, Black culture, and voice.
“Our school communities were struggling with unpacking their feelings and emotions regarding police brutality against Black bodies,” says Kelly, elaborating more on the project’s roots. “ And we really wanted to reaffirm to our students that they mattered. So we chose to take the grief, the rage, the frustration of our communities and pour into Black joy, curating thoughtful proclamations to encourage and empower our learners.”
The two teachers then began to wonder how this would look on a much larger scale and realized its most notable form — Afromation Avenue.
“We’re running through a list of ideas, and it dawned on us… street signs are literally everywhere. You notice them sometimes, and sometimes you don’t. And it would be really cool if you saw these positive proclamations, specifically to Black people in the street and intentionally in Black spaces,” said Jennings.
These street art signs are also purposefully placed in Black neighborhoods as a placemaking tool for ownership as gentrification rises and continues to displace Black residents. “[It’s a tool] to give Black people a sensibility of ‘this is our space,’ even if people are trying to intrude in our space — it’s still our space.”
After the pair pitched the idea to themselves, they knew they had to pitch it elsewhere, too. Kelly and Jennings emailed Mural Arts about their ideas, and to their pleasure, the organization contacted them, saying they loved the concept, and the rest was history.
Now, almost one year after the project’s first installment, the two are bringing the power of affirmation to Germantown and they’re putting community engagement at the heart of everything.
Just as they did in West Philly, Kelly and Jennings will be on the ground collecting feedback from Germantown neighbors for the next couple of months. Rather than coming in and telling the residents what they’re going to do, they allow neighbors to tell them what they want to see about the neighborhood reflected in the project.
Questions the two may ask neighbors are “What do you have to say about your community?” or “How do you feel about your community?” but aren’t limited to that. And unlike the West Philly installment, neighbors will also have a chance to lend a voice to where these street signs should be placed.
Kelly has roots in West Philly, as she grew up in the area, so she already had some spots scouted. But as a neighborhood they’re unfamiliar with, they wanted to grant that decision to the Germantowners.
Along with open input from local residents, the pair will work with Germantown’s very own street artist NOMAD. NOMAD’s art centers on protecting and preserving the integrity of Black spaces.
NOMAD became interested in Afromation Avenue after its West Philly launch. When he saw the open call for artists, he answered. NOMAD finds the project useful for Black communities in Philadelphia, saying it’s a way to have their collective voices heard.
“I believe that since this project is essential for voicing the thoughts and concerns of the community, it allows people to see their actual sentiments out in the neighborhood in the form of some really cool artwork,” he said.
Alongside NOMAD, Mural Arts Black Artist Fellow Nikita ‘Kita’ Richardson will also work on the project. Richardson’s work, according to Jennings, “is all about creating and expanding spaces for Black people, especially in a time that seems to never end, where colonization of neighborhoods always happens.”
“To see the juxtaposition between the collage work and the street art is really cool,” Jennings says. “Both artists have a different lens of which they are creating, but their missions are the same.”
Kelly and Jennings have already begun their outreach in Germantown, popping up at different events to gather feedback from residents. This past Friday, they held an informational session at Ubuntu Fine Art, where they explained the project and their process and took questions from neighbors.
Ubuntu Fine Art owner Steven Taylor says he sees this project as a tool for inspiration. He says, “I think it will offer the neighborhood a fresh new way to view art and a welcomed addition to the budding arts hub that is brewing in Germantown.”
Kelly and Jennings say that exploring Germantown and its inhabitants has been a joyous experience. They say the folks they’ve spoken to, like Steven, have been exceptionally warm and welcoming and have offered them heaps of information to help build this project.
“It’s such a refreshing energy,” said Jennings,” and I think what makes this special is that we don’t know anything about Germantown, and people are willing to teach us. [There are] a lot of social norms that we don’t know the history of, but are aware of, but also don’t fully understand. And I think that’s [what] makes it special–that people are not gatekeeping information.”
The duo will continue crowdsourcing information from Germantown residents for the next few months. They hope to debut their next installment in October, right in time to celebrate one year since the project’s original launch.
To learn more about Afromation Avenue, visit their Instagram page at @afromationavenue. You can also contact Kelly and Jennings via email at email@example.com. Be on the lookout for more information sessions or public calls for feedback.
“Germantown is a level up,” Jennings ends with. “We looked at the things that are happening there and the people that are there and the investment. And we’re very excited.”