Noticing Neighbors - Affirmation Billboards
Continuing our series about #NoticingNeighbors, we want to introduce you to a special soul whose work is making ripples through the community. Everyone, meet Nicole Leth. Have you seen this billboard when driving 10th and Harrison in downtown KC? If not, we bet you’ll Notice it now. Nicole is the artist, mental health advocate, and force behind this healing activism. Read on for the Affirmation Billboards full story.
Hayley: Where did the initial idea for an affirmation billboard come from? I had never seen one before.
The idea behind the affirmation billboards happened as a very natural trajectory. Back when I was 17, I lost my father to suicide. My entire life changed. I was young and had no idea how to heal from something that serious. I started writing in my journal for comfort and then started painting these words on my bedroom walls because it felt significant to see words that helped me painted bigger and on display. I ran with the idea and started graffitiing those words on abandoned buildings in my hometown - I was still in high school. This is technically how it all started. This project helped me love and heal and saved my life. I put these words in public places so that they might make other people feel loved, and enable them to heal and save their own lives. I believe that love and healing are cyclical in that way.
Hayley: Do you remember the moment you saw the first billboard up in the city? Nicole: Yes - "profound" is a big word, but that was how it felt when I saw the first billboard for the first time.
It was June of 2019 and I hadn't told anyone that I was going to put up a billboard, it was a secret - it was for me. I was alone in my car when I saw it off the side of the highway, I cried, it felt intimate and meaningful and poetic. It felt like everything in my life had gotten me there and that I was finally able to see the beauty and the purpose behind the hard parts.
I’m so glad that you got to enjoy it for yourself first. What an impactful moment. How have you seen a ripple effect from that first billboard?
Nicole: The ripple effect took place almost immediately after that first billboard went up. I kept it a secret for a few weeks and drove by it day after day, and then I finally told a small group of friends and family about it so that they may drive by too. I woke up the day after telling them to see that it had gone viral on the internet and had been seen by millions. From there, everything took off - the project was featured on The Today Show and The Washington Post, mental health advocates from all over the world were reaching out to work with me to post billboards in their communities, and advertising companies donated free billboard space to me around the country.
From what started as one secret billboard in the Midwest has turned into over 600 billboards with different messages I've written on them around the world. I don't really know how to comprehend that, but it makes me want to work harder and love more.
Hayley: What is your message to someone reading this who had a low year in 2020?
You have survived 100% of your hard days so far in your life, you can get through today and tomorrow and the next day. Every time you get through a hard day you are better suited to get through another one.
There is purpose in the hard days. Growth is what happens when you lean into the discomfort and trust that it has purpose. Your resilience is inspiring and life-changing and real. You are not broken after this year, you are still a whole person. You've always been whole. The way that you keep going helps me keep going, too.
Hayley: How can our readers at The Noticed Network find and support you?
The best way to support me is to spread the message of the affirmation project, sign up to receive affirmation postcards, and donate to help fund new billboards. All of that is possible and accessible at myaffirmationproject.com Thank you so much!
We’re all about Noticing the good to improve mental health, and we know this past year has been a low point for so many. If you or a loved one needs a place to talk about hard times you’re facing, First Steps is a wonderful team to talk to. It is an open ended, multilingual and toll free experience that helps you figure out a plan to improve your mental health. We deeply care about all of you and hope you are taking great care of yourself, always. If this is a conversation that would help you, their number is: 1-888-279-8188