Smoketown woman changes the message on neighborhood billboards

The billboards appear throughout Smoketown. (Source: Sharon Yoo/WAVE 3 News)
The billboards appear throughout Smoketown. (Source: Sharon Yoo/WAVE 3 News)
Hannah Drake (Source: Sharon Yoo/WAVE 3 News)
Hannah Drake (Source: Sharon Yoo/WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – In a survey conducted by a Hannah Drake, someone described Smoketown as a neighborhood with low self-esteem.
Heartbroken, Drake set out to change that neighborhood vibe through words, one billboard at a time.

Signs are a big thing in Smoketown. They're everywhere, and of every kind imaginable - signs offering cash for homes or diabetic strips or to cash checks in a hurry. They're predominantly what Drake calls "predatory" signs.

"Any signs that prey on someone's financial misfortune," Drake said.

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In Smoketown, one can barely travel a block without seeing injury lawyer signs.
"Lawyers, lawyers, lawyers - that's what they all say," Drake said.

They are hard to ignore, and most of them are negative. Drake said she'd had enough.
"What if we changed all the signage into poetry?" Drake asked.

That's how her initiative One Poem At A Time started. Instead of selling goods for cash, Drake's new billboards all over Smoketown solicit the words and faces of Smoketown residents. They're empowering, according to Drake.

"We see you, and we hear you, and we will elevate your voices in any way we can," Drake explained.

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Each billboard features a picture of Smoketown residents coupled with an original phrase from one of them or a quote from an influential Louisvillians like Muhammad Ali. It's a short but sweet way to put a smile on the faces of Smoketown residents or to simply inspire hope.

"We no longer want these signs in our community, so we're trying to push a policy where you can no longer advertise in low-income communities with predatory signs," Drake said.
The point is to let the world know one thing.

WATCH: Sharon Yoo's report

"People are worthy of having ownership of their space, where they live," Drake said.

The initiative has been running on grants and donations from Outfront Media, the company that owns the advertising spaces. The billboards will remain up for six weeks, but Drake hopes to find enough money to keep the project running indefinitely.

Drake also will host a community empowerment event on Saturday, April 1 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Smoketown Unity Monument located at Hancock and Lampton Streets. Free mammograms and health screenings will be offered at the event, which also will feature discussions about the proposed policy change regarding predatory signs. In addition, community members will have a chance to share stories about the history of Smoketown and experience a poetry walk, highlighting neighborhood landmarks.

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