Keedron Bryant was just trying to find a way to process his sadness and his anger over the death of George Floyd a year ago when he poured his heart into an original song.
The young singer’s “I Just Wanna Live” not only touched millions around the world, it also started a life-changing whirlwind of a year for the 13-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida.
“People tell me that every day – you really just inspired me and motivated me,’’ Keedron told TODAY. “I think it's a big impact that I made.”
He started singing at 7 and once performed on the NBC talent show “Little Big Shots,” but “I Just Wanna Live” sent him to a new level of recognition. The emotional lyrics were written by his mother, Johnetta Bryant, after she saw video of Floyd calling out for his mother before his death.
Keedron, who was 12 at the time, posted a snippet of the song on Instagram a day after Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“I’m a young Black man/ doing all that I can/ to stand," Keedron sings in the video. "Oh, but when I look around/ and I see what’s being done to my kind/ every day, I’m being hunted as prey/ My people don’t want no trouble/ We’ve had enough struggle/ I just want to live/ God, protect me/ I just want to live/ I just want to live."
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The music summed up the way Keedron felt just being in public.
“I wasn't afraid, but I was cautious because I know that I'm a young Black man in America, so I still have to walk out in the streets, I’ve got to go in the car, I’ve got to go into restaurants, so there’s still this cautiousness,” he said. “I just keep my head up and stay hopeful in everything I do, stay positive and trust in God.”
His song went viral, receiving praise from luminaries like Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong’o, music legend Janet Jackson and former President Barack Obama.
“Just to see all that from the big legends, it was just an honor, and I was just so grateful and thankful that I can inspire others who have been in the game way longer than me,” Bryant said.
It also led to Bryant getting signed to a record deal by Warner Records in June 2020, less than a month after he released it. He is now hoping to put out some new music later this year.
“Since going viral and getting signed to Warner Records, my schedule has definitely changed a lot,” he said. “Now I'm in the studio recording music with the producer and team and going to seminars and panels discussing racism and social justice. It just feels so good to share hope with others and be able to collaborate with dope artists.”
Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes before his death.
“I’m thankful for the guilty verdict in the George Floyd case, but there are so many cases that still need justice to be served,” he said. “I’m hopeful that everyone comes together and that we will keep Dr. King's dream alive and those of many others who gave their lives for the rights of Black America.”
Since Floyd’s death, police killings of civilians have continued at a steady rate, including 414 people in 2021, according to the research collaborative Mapping Police Violence. Of the 1,127 people killed by police in 2020, police officers were only charged in 16 of them, according to Mapping Police Violence.
“I don't think it’s changed because it's still happens, but I believe that we are taking baby steps and still trying to reach the goal,” Keedron said. “I don't know when we're going to reach equality, but I just hope that we can.”