All Black folks are deserving of knowing their worth and that they are loved, valued, and important. In a world that seeks to minimize the Black community's respective livelihoods, it is crucial that we create spaces to uplift and support one another.

The Black Emotional & Mental Health Collective—known as BEAM— has launched a new public art campaign in New York City called "Dear Black Folks." Celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month, the campaign utilizes affirmations tailored to speak to the Black experience.

On each of the "Dear Black Folks" affirmation billboards, there are QR codes alongside the affirmation that brings readers to a directory of resources such as mental health services, events, and wellness tools. It is the hope that these resources will be of aid to those beginning mental health journeys or that they may help encourage healthier regimens.

What is most impactful about this campaign is that it not only has the goal to uplift those within the community, but can encourage and dismantle the stigma surrounding broader conversations about mental health in everyday life.

"We know that public art can help save lives. We also know that public spaces are spaces where Black bodies and lives are so consistently undervalued and denigrated. For Mental Health Month this year, we wanted to disrupt that energy by sharing loving affirmations for our folks that shift narratives on our worth, our power, and the narratives pushed upon us," shared Yolo Akili Robinson, Executive Director and Founder of BEAM. He continued, "Mental health is not just about the individual; our collective mental health is impacted by the cultural narratives about who we should love and how we should be loved. This campaign was designed to counter those messages by centering love for all of our folks, regardless of our ability, gender identity, or productivity. They are messages rooted in healing justice."

(left to right) Yolo Akili Robinson and C.J. Robinson pose in front of the project they co-collaborated on for BEAM's "Dear Black Folks" campaign. Image: courtesy of Trevor Riley.

The power of sharing our own lived experiences is integral to expanding communal views on topics such as mental health. Robinson knows this firsthand as his own personal journaling practice became the impetus for this campaign after sharing it with the BEAM team. "It was only coincidental I shared them with our Director of Communications, Dayo Akinyemi, who encouraged making them into graphics, and then Skye Barclay, our Comms Coordinator, who held the vision for them being a part of a larger subway campaign in NYC and Atlanta."

BEAM enlisted the artistic talents of CJ Robinson and Richard Ford III to bring these elements to life. CJ Robinson— a phenomenal art director and illustrator whose work has been featured by Nike, Native Son, and many more— shared, "Designing these ads presented an exciting creative challenge: to depict Black men, non-binary individuals, and gender-fluid individuals in a manner that captivates and resonates with all communities, honoring their identities. The ultimate goal was to ensure that everyone feels acknowledged and valued, fostering a sense of visibility and inclusivity. I feel so proud and honored!"

"Dear Black Men" ad featuring affirmations by Yolo Akili and artwork by CJ Robinson. Image: courtesy of Trevor Riley.

The "Dear Black Trans Folks" ad as seen in a Sterling Street subway stop in Brooklyn, New York was designed by Richard Ford III. Image: courtesy of Trevor Riley.
The "Dear Black Women" ad designed by Richard Ford III. Image: courtesy of Trevor Riley.

"Affirming the Black community in public spaces such as subways and Marta stations is a revolutionary act, as it grants us the opportunity to feel acknowledged, valued, inspired, and even empowered. This campaign is exceptional because it distinguishes itself from advertisements on trains that primarily seek to persuade consumers to purchase a product or experience, rather than promoting overall well-being," shared C.J. Robinson.

These affirmations can currently be admired and found on subways in Harlem and Brooklyn, New York.