Jan 20, 2022

The Healing Power of Poetry and Community

by: Ilse García Romero

The Kensington Healing Verse, a recent project from Mural Arts’ Porch Light department, reflects our commitment to sustained investment in a neighborhood that reflects our city’s diversity, challenges, and creativity. This past year, Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson and project curator Ryan Strand Greenberg hosted community poetry workshops in classrooms, vacant lots, community centers, recovery centers, local businesses and even on Zoom. The discussions in these workshops resulted in a collaborative poem that encompasses the spirit of Kensington residents.

The compassion and poems shared in these meetings were powerful we thought it was very necessary to share them with the broader community,” said Strand Greenberg.

East and West Kensington residents, elementary school students, and individuals of all ages impacted by substance use and housing insecurity reflected on daily life in the Kensington community. They used poetry to re-envision their community and imagine new pathways to healing. The participants’ writings captured Kensington’s memories, challenges, and aspirations of daily life for Kensington. 

It was a privilege for me to work with Trapeta creating safe spaces for this type of vulnerable exchange surrounding issues so close to my heart. We witnessed as neighbors turned into friends and poets,” continued Strand Greenberg.

These poems were combined into a singular group poem reflecting a shared vision for community and healing. This poem, entitled “our story of us,” was transformed into a neon sign and lifted to the rooftop of 2400 Kensington Avenue to serve as a beacon of strength, hope, and healing for the residents of Kensington.

our story of us © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Trapeta Mayson, 2400 Kensington Avenue. Photo by Steve Weinik.

I worked with the beautiful people in Kensington for many months, some just a few blocks from my job and several more blocks from a little neighborhood I grew up in in North Philadelphia. This is an awesome closure to my 2020-2021 poet laureate tenure,” said Mayson.

An in-person submission station was installed directly below the artwork for people who would like to participate or write a poem. Pens and paper are provided inside K fish comestible (Tuesday-Saturday).

The custom posters below were also created featuring some of the poems written in the workshops. These will be available at select community centers and businesses throughout Kensington. The exact locations will be announced soon.


This project is part of Mural Arts’ Kensington Wellness Initiative, which has developed a series of projects focused on addressing trauma, cultivating wellness, and strengthening the community by building connection and understanding. The Initiative’s community-led, participatory approach to public art fosters space for reflection and consensus-building to support a broad concept of community wellness.

At Mural Arts, we hope to better understand the needs of the community of Kensington through these types of projects and initiatives that allow residents to express themselves without judgment. Our Porch Light department, a joint collaboration with the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, has been working in Kensington for years, with the goal to address the issues that affect this community most. This work is complex and highly nuanced, but we view it with creativity and compassion, determined to improve the living conditions of our neighbors and amplify the voices of the marginalized. 

The website for the project by designer Natalie Harris, Kensingtonhealingverse.com, has already been featured on a few prominent design websites, including typewolf.com. On this page, the broader community can view some of the poems submitted by individuals from our Kensington workshops and submit their own poems/stories.

Says Strand Greenberg, “Poetry is such an incredible tool for self-expression we hope that residents will continue using it to reflect in our workshops, through our submission box, and on our website!”

Workshops will continue online this winter. Community neighbors who want to participate can stay in the loop at kensingtonhealingverse.com.

Last updated: Jan 27, 2022

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samaris ayala says

poetry may
be a weapon
and a gift