Keedron Bryant is using his voice for change.
In this week's issue of PEOPLE, the 13-year-old singer — who went viral in May after posting a smartphone-shot video of himself singing "I Just Wanna Live," a haunting song written by his mother in response to the police killing of George Floyd — opens up about the harsh reality of growing up Black in America.
"My parents always tell me and my sister, 'You have to know that you're Black and when you go out into the world, make sure you respect people and treat everybody how you would want to be treated,'" Bryant says. "They want us to have knowledge so we're not clueless and confused when we get pulled over by a police officer when we're older. To think I'm a Black male going out into the streets makes me afraid, but I always try to keep my faith in God and that he'll protect me."
After watching the video of Floyd’s death with her family at their Jacksonville, Florida, home, Bryant's mother, Johnetta, was inspired to write "I Just Wanna Live."
"It was heartbreaking," Bryant says. "So my mom prayed and asked God to give her something to pass down to me for wisdom. God gave her those lyrics, then she gave the lyrics to me and told me to go upstairs and pray over them. So that's what I did. "
Right away, the eighth-grader says he connected with the words.
"I asked God to give me power and strength to deliver the right message in a really hopeful way," he says. "After that, I went back downstairs and said that I was ready to record. I felt really hopeful that it was a good song, but I didn't know the impact it would have."
Within days, Bryant's video racked up more than a million views, and celebrities — including Janet Jackson, LeBron James and former President Barack Obama — lauded its power. With a moving message about how Black children in America are forced to grow up quickly because of racial injustice, it became an unofficial anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.
"I feel really grateful to be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement," Bryant says. "Little steps matter, and I hope racial profiling and violence towards Black people changes. I want to live without fear."
Within weeks of posting the video, Bryant landed a record deal, and "I Just Wanna Live" is now the title track of his uplifting debut EP, which was released on Sept. 11.
"Even if people are sad about what’s going on," says Bryant, "I hope that I bring them joy with my music."
Bryant's heroes, like singer John Legend, also inspire him to keep reaching for the stars.
"I don't want to be known as just the 'I Just Wanna Live' boy," he says. "I want to leave a really big footprint on the world, and I’ll always keep fighting for what is right."
For all the details on how Keedron Bryant's viral anthem changed his life, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
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