“I just want to live” is the chorus of a gospel song by 12-year-old Keedron Bryant, speaking to the awful reality he and many Black youth face. The song was written by the gospel performer’s mom, Johnnetta Bryant, after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a a white police officer’s fatal chokehold in Minneapolis. A video of Bryant singing it a capella from the heart has resonated with many who feel his anguish.
The young singer wore a “Black Intelligence” shirt in his video and thanked its maker SDHtoronto, a Black-owned label, by Toronto designer Sandra Hamilton.
Young Black performers like Bryant are making deeply honest protest songs, dedicated to the victims of racist police and gun violence.
Chloë Nixon is a 16-year-old singer and songwriter from New Mexico. She wrote “I Can’t Breathe” for Floyd and his family. With lyrics like “Afraid to lose our breath of air,” Nixon describes the panic and anxiety Black families worry about on a regular basis.
“Know that it is crucial to fight for justice and make sure it is known that we see the toxic conditions of our system and that we will not tolerate it!” Nixon wrote in her Instagram post.
New York City-based teen singer Kyla Imani, 18, makes a poignant stance on behalf of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man from Georgia who was shot and killed while jogging in February.
″If it ain’t the virus, then it’s violence,” she sings from her bedroom.
North Carolina artist Ray Emmanuel penned several verses in honour of Floyd, using his lived experience as the background and Floyd’s death.
Lending their voices to beloved songs that speak to their emotional turmoil has also been popular, like 10-year-old U.K. rocker Nandi Bushell and her rendition of “Guerilla Radio.” She plays three instruments in her Rage Against The Machine cover, with “Black Lives Matter” proudly displayed on her drum set.
As many parents concerned about having conversations with kids about race, it’s clear that families with Black kids don’t have the luxury to be ignorant. For them, painful experiences of intolerance can be felt at any age.
In the face of intolerance and racial violence, music is the perfect avenue to express the painful emotions that rise when Black communities are under attack — one that people of any age can find cathartic.
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