Curious Cbus: Why This Woman Hangs Affirming Signs Over Columbus Highways

Oct 4, 2019

You are enough. You are valuable. You are worthy.

Mantras like these have been appearing on highway overpasses and bridges across Columbus over the last few months.

"The overpass that I saw it on usually has like all these anti-abortion signs all the time," says Cory Slack. "I was looking up and I was like, 'Ah it’s going to be another negative sign,' and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was positive. And yeah, it really put a smile on my face."

Sleck works in social work, and spends a lot of time in his car driving to and from clients houses. He smiles, standing in front of a sign that says "You Are Valuable."

"I definitely think everyone can use some more positivity," he says, "and was just curious about who put them up."

Slack asked WOSU's Curious Cbus project to look into the origins of the affirmations. With some Facebook sleuthing, the answer wasn't too hard to find: Cecily King is the mastermind behind the signs.

"I Do Most Of My Grieving In The Car"

Armed with a can of spray paint, King bends over a sheet on her driveway that says "You Are Loved."

"Watch your shoes, honey!" she warns.

King is prepping the latest batch of signs to hang around the city. Another one says, “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going." She plans to hang it between the Ohio State campus and the student health center.

Cecily King paints a sign in her driveway.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU

"A lot of kids are really struggling with their mental health and don’t know how to get help or don’t feel like they should, don’t feel like they’re supposed to," King says, her voice catching. "Some of them don’t make it. So that’s who those ones are for, and those ones make me cry for that reason."

King is quick to laugh, and quick to cry, too. Her eyes are bright and brown, and she pushes her dark hair out of her face nervously as she talks. Her hands are streaked with black paint.

"I’ve lost some people in my life that way, to suicide, to untreated mental health problems, and I just want to encourage them to get help and keep going and keep moving," she says. "It gets better."

That sentiment is why King started making the signs and hanging them on overpasses.

"I do most of my grieving in the car because it’s the only place I have the time and the space and no one needs me to do something else," King says.

King hangs a sign on a highway overpass.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU

"So I think about things that are going wrong," she continues, "things I want to fix, and why things aren’t working and what I can do to make it work, and about the people that I’ve lost, the people I’m losing, I think we all – I think a lot of us do that."

King thought if she needed a reminder that things were going to be okay, someone else might too.

"All of these things are universally true," she says, gesturing at the signs flattened on her driveway. "All of us are worthy of being here and having a good life. All of us. All of us are valuable. All of us are important."

King is a mother of two, and has a full time job. But every few weeks, she takes the day to spray paint old sheets, then drives around town hanging them up.

"I thought of it, and I can do it, so I did it," King says. "If you can do something good, and you’re probably not going to get arrested – this isn’t 100% legal but I’m probably not going to get arrested – why not?"

Odessa King helps her mom Cecily hang the positive highway signs.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU

Today, her teen daughter Odessa joins her to hang the finished products. They pack the signs into the car with a bunch of zip ties, then set out in the car, keeping an eye out for overpasses with chain link fences.

King pulls up to the bridge over I-70 and hops out of the car, sign in hand.

"So OSU is this way," she says pointing, "and the student health center is over that way."

She bites down on a handful of zip ties, then climbs up onto the overpass bridge, hanging on to the fence. Odessa does the same. 

"I like them, they make me happy," Odessa says. "I saw one on my way to a therapy session of my own, and that was exciting."

Cory Slack said he appreciated seeing these signs posted above the highways, and asked WOSU's Curious Cbus project about their origin.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU

King and her daughter finish tying the sign to the fence. They both take a step back, admiring their work.

"That’s pretty good," King says, smiling. "They always make me a little mushy. I hope it works. I hope it helps somebody, I hope it reminds somebody to just get through this part. Just get through this part."

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