Looming above the skyline of downtown Kansas City, Mo., sits an uplifting message inscribed in bold blue letters on a bright pink billboard for all U.S. Highway 71 commuters to see: “You are human. You are loveable [sic]. You are strong. You are enough.”
The 26-year-old local artist behind the billboard, Nicole Leth, hopes that beyond making someone’s day just a little brighter, the words of affirmation might just save the life of someone on the brink of suicide.
“I hope that this billboard will hold compassionate space to empower people to save their own lives by reminding them of their inherent truths and worth,” Leth tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And it’s a statistic that hits close to home for Leth, as she lost her own father to suicide in 2010, when she was just 17.
“It shattered my world,” she says about her dad, who “was someone who I was so close with and had the same heart as I did.” On that day, she recalls, “I made a promise to myself that I would spend the rest of my life trying to create beauty out of the tragedy and trauma that had just occurred.”
Leth also made a vow that she would “try to save a life with the art that I put out into the world or the words that I wrote.” She started by printing out encouraging messages on stickers and leaving them in random places, and gifting them to strangers and loved ones. But it took her nine years to finally make good on that promise in this big, bold way.
It came after a recent realization: “that I wouldn't never be able to save someone else's life for them. I don't think that’s a power we have as humans,” Leth tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But what is effective is creating a space through affirmation, encouragement and compassion that empowers people to save their own lives. This is exactly what this Affirmation Billboard was put up to manifest.”
Leth, who works as a yoga teacher and an artist, funded the first ‘affirmation billboard’ herself by secretly putting away a few pay checks for several months. According to Link Media, the company who put up Leth’s billboard, over one million people will pass by her message in the month that it’s up.
“If it helps someone feel better, even just for a second, my goal has been accomplished,” Leth tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Since the first board was erected on July 22, 2019, the board has had a bigger impact that she had imagined. People have told her the affirming words have helped make their day, feel supported while mourning the loss of a loved one — or even like they could hang on for one more day.
“I lost my 16 year old daughter to suicide 2 years ago,” wrote one user on Facebook. “Because of this you may just saved a life! And a life saved is a family that won't know the horror of losing a loved one to suicide. It is a life sentence of pain from losing them.”
Leth says the response to her Affirmation Boards has made “all the hard things and low points I went through with the loss of my father and the years that followed” have meaning and purpose. Leth plans to keep the billboard up in Kansas City for a year, and hopes to share her uplifting work across the nation.
For financial support of this goal, she’s started a funding campaign. And she’s keeping it all in perspective.
“I'm a complete stranger; I'm just a 26-year-old girl in the midwest sitting here at my desk but I love you, and I want you to know that you matter,” Leth tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “If a complete stranger can love you and know deep down in their entire heart that you're enough, then you can believe it, too. One breath at a time, one day at a time.”
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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