"Loving yourself unconditionally and eating healthy is a revolutionary act—especially where I come from."
That's the message behind a host of new billboards that have been popping up around the West and East Oakland neighborhoods. Brittani Sensabaugh, 27, an East Oakland photographer, has made it her mission to document America's most dangerous neighborhoods. The project began when Sensabaugh noticed the prolific negativity behind the advertising in the East Bay's poorest districts, where signs sell cigarettes, HIV testing and "ugly homes for cheap."
The photographer and her subject in front of the billboard at 77th and International Streets in East Oakland. (Courtesy of Brittani Sensabaugh)
"Not only do we not have access to healthy habits in these communities, but there's no advertising telling us how to access a healthier lifestyle. We need to see uplifting, positive imagery in our communities," explains the young photographer.
Sensabaugh had a wealth of positive imagery—think photos celebrating the fabulous updos and complicated braid patterns of African Americans and aspiring ballerinas practicing on a sidewalk in Harlem—from spending the last three years photographing communities of color across the country. She just needed the billboards.
Billboard at 66th and International. (Courtesy of Brittani Sensabaugh)
Rather than be associated with a large name brand, Sensabaugh decided to pay for all the billboards herself and reach out to minority-owned businesses to help her spread her uplifting message. Mandela Marketplace, a non-profit organization that works to build health and wealth in low-income communities of color, was her first ally, and a collaboration with Yoga Love, an African American-owned yoga studio in North Oakland, is in the works. "That way the money stays within the community," Sensabaugh explains.
The billboard at West Oakland BART. (Courtesy of Brittani Sensabaugh)
The results are inspirational billboards that stretch from the corner of 73rd and International in East Oakland to the West Oakland BART station. And while the missives are different on each board, their meaning is constant: Love yourself. Heal yourself. Love is greater than fear.
"The reaction has been powerful," says Sensabaugh. "I've had women cry when I show them the billboards. They've never seen our people looking so wonderful."
This billboard is on International in East Oakland. (Courtesy of Brittani Sensabaugh)
Currently, Sensabaugh has four billboards across Oakland. Each is only up for a month, and more are on the way, including a bright pink one going up on West MacArthur Blvd. in North Oakland on Friday. A recent agreement with a digital billboards company will also have two of her dispatches displayed on the San Mateo Bridge and on the 880 Freeway across from Oracle Arena. She's also planning to put up similar billboards in all the neighborhoods she's photographed, including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. // See more of Sensabaugh's work and contribute to her billboard campaign at brittsense.com
The billboard at the MacArthur BART station will be revealed on Friday, December 2nd. (Courtesy of Brittani Sensabaugh)
Get a behind-the-scenes look in the video below. Video by Julia Schroeder.