“I’m a young Black man doing all that I can…”
That’s the opening line of 12-year-old Keedron Bryant’s “I Just Wanna Live.” On May 26, Keedron caught the attention of millions when he uploaded a one-minute clip of him performing the original track. The video quickly went viral, capturing the hearts of many across the country, amidst outrage following the murder of George Floyd. This led to Keedron securing a record deal with Warner Records, and to mark his debut as a signed artist, he dropped the full version of “I Just Wanna Live” on Friday, Juneteenth.
Keedron has a rich musical background. He started to take an interest in singing when he was just five years old, performing in the church alongside his family. And at seven, he knew he wanted to pursue music as a career. “It just makes me feel good,” he tells Complex. “Music could change your life, and it makes me feel free and happy.”
The powerful record was written by Keedron’s mother, Johnnetta, shortly after the killing of George Floyd. After turning to prayer for guidance, Johnnetta says she found the strength to write lyrics that would connect with her son and others who were grappling with how to process the ongoing violence against Black people.
“The moment when [George Floyd] cried out for his mom really pierced my heart. I knew in that moment that we are facing a very bad problem and that we need divine intervention,” she says. “I knew that I wanted to be able to share something with Keedron that is going to help him understand what’s going on in the world. We talk about it all the time to him, but I knew that we needed supernatural wisdom to help us cope. So, I went into prayer, and I asked God for help. God gave me those lyrics in my prayer time.”
Johnnetta then shared the song with Keedron, who she told to “take these words, and pray over them. I want you to meditate on them.”
“[I want people to know] that we could still come together as one and change the world with equality, and that we could always lean on one another and not be hating each other.” - Keedron Bryant
On the track, Keedron sings, “Oh, but when I look around and 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.” In the video, you can see the raw and pained emotion in Keedron’s eyes as he belts out each note. He says at that moment, he was thinking about the injustice Black people face regularly.
“It was unfair and sad,” he explains. “Black people can’t really live and enjoy life on Earth without having fear in their minds and being afraid. I feel that the world needs to see that Black people are treated unfairly, and that we can’t live life and enjoy it. That’s why I did the video, to bring hope in the world.”
The response to the clip of “I Wanna Live” was overwhelming, racking up more than three million views on his Instagram account. LeBron James, Lupita Nyong’o, Janet Jackson, and Eva Longoria were among the many who shared the video on social media. But Keedron says he was most surprised by former President Barack Obama’s support. “He's our first black president, and he is supporting me through what I did, so that was really exciting to see,” he says.
The poignant song is just the beginning of Keedron’s musical career. He reveals that he plans to release more music as he gets acquainted with Warner Records. But for now, he wants people to be inspired by the full version of “I Just Wanna Live” and keep fighting for equality.
“[I want people to know] that we could still come together as one and change the world with equality, and that we could always lean on one another and not be hating each other.”