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Young Richmond artists rap for societal change

on December 16, 2014

When you head to the back of the RYSE youth center, there’s a special room where teens and young adults gather to share their thoughts and feelings.

In one of the corners stands an altar, adorned with six pictures of young black men whose lives were lost, three from around the country and three closer to home.

Messages written by RYSE’s young members are plastered around the altar.

“These hearts represent the people we have lost,” Gemikia Henderson said. “Some of the hearts are encouraging words to those who still feel the pain of losing their loved ones.”

Henderson wants to change this. A four-year veteran of RYSE, Henderson came to the youth center after losing her own support system. At 17, her best friend was killed by gun violence. Three months later, her grandmother died.

She found the RYSE Center through a two-year internship, and she learned video and editing skills.

Her first music video “Street Literature” was made in reaction to the verdict of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin. “Change Gon’ Come” is the sequel to Street Literature.

The video portrays three young boys of color and the decisions they make on a day-to-day basis, despite the influences in their lives.

“Those were three stories that we felt were important to show and they get younger, younger, and younger,” Henderson said. “With the video, we want to recognize the everyday struggle of young people and how us as leaders plan to shift that mindset.”

The video was a full Richmond production, shot by a local videographer, Chito Floriano and four young Richmond artists wrote the lyrics.

The message of the piece is seen through the powerful chorus: “I’m going to claim life, I’m going to claim freedom, / I’ve been through every type of pain but I’m still here, / Breaking every type of change I have no fear/ I’m going to speak life until everything is clear, / Watch the change gon’ come.”

For Keenen Haggerty, one of the four rappers on the track, the music video gave him an opportunity to try out his own lyrics and write about what was important to him.

“[For] a lot of people their influences are drug dealers, people who promote gun violence, people who like to shoot people and sell drugs and all that, but what we’re saying is kind of different,” said Haggerty, whose rapping name is BraKeen. “It’s going to probably touch people in a way they’ve never been touched before.”

Casey Beck, RYSE’s Media Arts and Culture associate, knows how hard the youth worked to get the video done, given the difficulty of the content.

“Thematically, Gemikia walked a difficult line of giving the video a hopeful ending while honoring the sometimes sadder truth she sees every day,” Beck said. “And this is where the video is most effective and where her talent as a young director is so clear: to tell important stories that otherwise aren’t being told. These are the stories of our time.”

RYSE will be hosting a screening of “Change Gon’ Come” with refreshments and light snacks and performances at 6 p.m. on Wednesday Dec. 17. RYSE will also host a second solidarity action with Ferguson at 5 p.m.


  1. Tony Suggs on December 16, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Its not “gun violence.” Its PEOPLE violence!

    Place a gun on a table, on the floor or in a car. It does not grow legs and fingers and look for people to shoot.

    Drug dealers can’t survive without customers. But most people think drugs are “victimless” crimes, so they “allow” them in their neighborhoods and even their own homes.

    Want to stop most of the violence, stop the drugs.

    • ur thoughts on December 17, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      White privilege at its finest

  2. Tony Suggs on December 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Who are you calling White? Surely not me!

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