TIME 100 Talks
August 6, 2020 2:36 PM EDT

When 12-year-old Keedron Bryant shared an Instagram video in late May, he wasn’t expecting viral fame and a record deal to come his way. Bryant, who has been singing since he was just 5 or 6 years old in children’s choir, had regularly posted a cappella singing videos to his social media.

But this time, the song — an original composition called “I Just Wanna Live,” written by his mother Johnetta Bryant — struck a special chord.

On the heels of the murder of George Floyd, Bryant’s protest anthem came across as both a gospel plea and a unifying message. “Me and my sister and my mom, we watched the Mr. George Floyd killing video. That was really sad and heartbreaking,” Bryant told TIME. “Right after that, my mom gave me the lyrics to ‘I Just Wanna Live.’ I prayed over the lyrics and I meditated over the lyrics and I went back downstairs and I said, ‘I’m ready to record.’ And we recorded it.”

“The message is that Black people just want to live on this earth… and not have fear in our minds that something bad is going to happen to us,” he added.

Notable figures like Barack Obama, Janet Jackson and LeBron James discovered and shared the video. Soon after, Bryant signed a record deal. His song now plays on the radio and has received multiple remixes, including a fresh version out in late July featuring Andra Day, Lucky Daye and IDK.

Bryant said he knew he wanted to pursue singing professionally when he was just seven years old. “Now, it’s just a dream come true,” he added. Now all of 13 years old, he is already putting the finishing touches on a new EP and working on his first album.

 

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the title of Bryant’s song. It is “I Just Wanna Live,” not “I Don’t Wanna Live.”

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

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