Voices Underground is a non-profit creative consulting firm that specializes in telling African-American history stories. Through their research, experiences, and memorialization methodology, VU supports archive creation, research personnel, expanded public programming, and cultural landscape planning and design. Voices Underground believes that a community can only thrive when everyone’s voices are heard, so the stories they tell must be true, transformative, and enduring.
Square Roots Collective, in partnership with Lincoln University, launched Voices Underground in 2019. The organization’s original goal was to promote the nationally significant history of the Underground Railroad in the Chester County region of Pennsylvania. The greater Philadelphia region—including Chester County and Kennett Square—is to the Underground Railroad what Alabama is to the Civil Rights Movement: a geography of singular historical significance. Voices Underground seeks to publicly memorialize this history so that it might continue to shape our future in more intentional ways.
Organization’s Mission and Vision
Mission: To support communities in narrating their African-American stories in a manner that is not just factual but transformative and enduring.
Vision: To foster community healing through creative and truthful engagement with the realities of history.
Voices Underground started as a local project for stakeholders who wanted to learn about the underground railroad. As it expanded, the VU team decided to move this local Chester County story to a “Pennsylvania Story.” Recognizing that the American social imagination is broken and that political discourse is not moving the needle, VU aims to bring communities together (primarily Black and white communities) to inspire them to reimagine the worlds they are part of.
As it continues to grow, Voices Underground has had the honor of cultivating a series of projects that speak directly to its mission. They facilitated Juneteenth In Pennsylvania, a state-wide commemoration of the 3rd nationally recognized Juneteenth, the oldest-known cultural celebration acknowledging June 19th, 1865, as the end of chattel slavery in the United States, They have partnered with PA Tourism and Lincoln University to lead a statewide initiative to promote and sustain African-American Tourism in Pennsylvania. Voices Underground has also established the African American Cultural Heritage Center. This center is devoted to uncovering the rich African American history found in this area of Pennsylvania.
Since the start of Voices Underground, the team has sought a co-curator or agency to help bring their vision and brand to life. They were interested in protecting the brand they had created and enhancing it further. Once Creative Repute was brought on as that agency to assist in he rebrand, or elevating branding, we became seen as more of a partnership that is fully in alignment with our client’s mission.
After our initial meeting with Voices Underground, it became clear that there was a two-pronged approach needed for the Voices Underground rebrand requirements: The first is the scholarly or academic approach, and the second is the cultural approach. As an organization shaping and defining the public memory, we understood that VU’s cultural voice needed to be as potent as its academic voice.
Our first meeting with Voices Underground made it clear that our team needed to tailor our approach immediately. Our Project Manager and Strategist started the Discovery Process believing that we were working with an organization whose sole purpose was to highlight the story of Pennsylvania’s part in the Underground Railroad. We quickly discovered that Voices Underground was so much more. Both Executive Directors of VU had visions of where they would like to see the organization go, and it was less echoing the appeal of a scholarly archival project and more of a “cultural gumbo.”
After confirming the project rebrand goals, our Brand Strategist began to hone in on VU’s target audience and their current demographic. Reviewing VU’s data through reports, analytics, insights, and market research, we noted that demographically speaking, UV interacted the most with a predominately white, male, middle-aged, middle-class audience. This is due to the predominant demographic of Chester County residents. A small POC population in this area is thriving but is seldomly engaged. The Creative brief needed to include a strategy for how Voices Underground could reach a wider audience. Creative Repute’s team of strategists recommended engaging in direct dialogue with members of various communities through focus groups to gain a reliable understanding of nuance that may impact how various cultures with various customs and perspectives respond to different language and imagery.
The final product was an eighty-eight-page Rebrand Report that highlighted Voices Underground’s mission and goals while detailing a brand strategy that included trends, imagery, design theory, marketing approach, and next steps for the project. Through this brief, we acknowledged that The Underground Railroad will not be the image for VU because of how trite it can be, but African American cultural history more broadly, especially from a creative standpoint, will inspire the new brand.
Now that the design team and Voices Underground had a guide to base the creative direction on, our team began with logo sketches while simultaneously working on the style guide. The VU team provided a moodboard, keywords, and phrases to inspire design ideas. They also provided many examples of current brands that were an inspiration to them. The design goal was to take contemporary and vintage African American designers and find concepts that marry the two in a modern way.
The Creative Team focused the most on Neo-Soul and Afro-Centric culture as well as first-hand experience from our diverse bench of team members to deliver a bold, sophisticated style guide that included logo placement, mockups, taglines, color schemes, and web-safe fonts. The final product brought cohesion to Voices Underground. The Voices Underground brand finally matches the story.
The resulting rebrand report served as a strategic handbook that encapsulates the multi-faceted identity of Voices Underground. By deliberately steering away from clichéd Underground Railroad imagery, we chose to spotlight the broader spectrum of African-American history and culture.
Our final deliverable was a comprehensive style guide deeply influenced by Neo-Soul and Afro-Centric culture. This guide includes meticulously chosen design elements- logo placement, mockups, taglines, color schemes, and web-safe fonts- that now align seamlessly with Voices Underground’s enriched narrative.
With this rebrand, Voices Underground is poised for growth and a level of impact that resonates deeply with a broad audience. The final product ensures that VU’s brand is now as vibrant, relevant, and enduring as the stories they strive to tell, fulfilling their mission to heal communities through the transformative power of storytelling.