Beyond the Canvas: Episode 2 Taking the Stage
‘I Still Can’t Breathe,’ a youth choir’s message on police violence, has fresh relevance
Judy Woodruff: Four years ago, the Chester Children's Chorus, a group based near Philadelphia, recorded an original song called "I Still Can't Breathe." It was their response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and others.
The chorus members have since grown to be teenagers and young adults.
Now, as Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country in the wake of George Floyd's death, these young people see their song as, tragically, still relevant.
Their story comes as part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.
Chorus (singing): Can you hear me? I still can't breathe
Skyy Brooks: When we performed "I Still Can't Breathe," I was around 10, 11 years old.
When I hear the song now, there's a huge sense of deja vu.
Jesse Brittan: Four years ago, I was a kid singing this song. Now I'm an adult, and I'm a grown man, and the same things are happening.
Skyy Brooks: It's literal. It's also a repeat of the words of Eric Garner's last words before his life was taken from him. And it's also a metaphor for the black experience in America.
Chrous (singing): Why are you afraid of me?
Jesse Brittan: The song is talking to those people who are constantly denying that there is a thing such as racism.
Skyy Brooks: There is a sense of hope because there are young kids singing it, but there's also a sense of helplessness also because there are young kids singing it.
Young black children realize what's going on. And some adults don't know what's going on or refuse to believe what's going on.
Chrous (singing): My love, my love is just like yours.
John Alston: I don't want people coming away thinking what a beautiful song that is. Why should we be hearing black men begging through a choke, I can't breathe? Why should they be pleading?
Chorus (singing): Why are you afraid of me?
John Alston: What's different is that the pandemic has given many white Americans the time and the emotional space to think about something more important than going shopping, or going to a movie, or going out to a restaurant. So, all of the distractions have been taken away from us.
Jesse Brittan: This new generation that is coming up, we have the power to change things. We have very large voices, and people are just now starting to listen.
Judy Woodruff: And we need to listen to these young people.