'Things That Matter' author and lead Jehmir Nixon (far right) with contributors Jaelynn Pearson and Samuel Smith

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As millions remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements, one Philly high-schooler offers the chance to reflect via musical tribute. Jehmir Nixon, a student at Hill-Freedman World Academy in Mt. Airy, wrote and produced a song that promotes speaking out against racial injustices.

The song has a powerful and relatable refrain taken from one of King’s resonant quotes:

“Our lives begin to end the day that we become silent about things that matter.”

Titled “Things That Matter,” the piece began last year as a sample Nixon submitted to fulfill a school assignment. “The song started off as just a small project for Martin Luther King Day that I presented in front of the class,” the 10th grader explained.

After Nixon’s presentation, music teacher Ezechial Thurman encouraged him to expand it into something more. Thanks to COVID restrictions, it would take a full year before the project was completed.

To produce the final song, Thurman drove a backpack recording studio to Jehmir’s home, which included all of the things necessary for recording and producing the track.

“[We] followed all the social distance guidelines, making sure everything was sanitized, and he was able to set up a Logic Pro studio with a decent quality recording mic in his home and take the song all the way to completion,” Thurman said.

Production included mixing in vocals from Jaelynn Pearson, a former student of Thurman’s, who was struck by the song and volunteered to become a background vocalist and be featured in the music video.

“When I heard it, I just thought, ‘Wow this is a powerful message behind a song that someone younger than me wrote,’” Pearson said. “I was just really amazed.”

The video, which also features Nixon’s friend Samuel Smith, was produced with the guidance of World Cafe Live, whose staff members asked each participant to shoot their sections of the video from home using cell phones.

YouTube video

Nixon hopes the song encourages people to speak up on issues they see as wrong, unfair or unjust, and try to bring about positive change.

“As long as people are just sitting back and watching things happen in the world — and not speaking up about it, and doing something about it — there’s not gonna be much of a change to the things around us,” Nixon said. “Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone,” he added.

Pearson emphasized that the song was created by teenagers, and hoped that would help get the message across.

“If someone happens to see Jehmir’s amazing music video on MLK Day,” she said, “I would hope that they say ‘Oh these are children, these are literal children, and they can see and understand what’s going on in the world and they felt a need to say something about it.’”

You can watch the music video here, and read the lyrics below.

Things That Matter

Our lives begin
To end
The day that we become
About things that matter

Too much negativity in the news
Try to avoid it cause it ruins my mood
I hear it on TV wanna put it on mute
gotta block it out start blasting my tunes

Everyday someone’s killed or abused
Here’s something good now it’s back to drug use
I could accept it all but I’d rather refuse
It’s sad to think that this is something that we’re used to

And it’s all gonna stay the same
Unless you say something
Nothing’s gonna shift or change

Our lives begin
To end
The day that we become
About things that matter

Don’t even get me started on politics
I just let the system do its thing and reap the benefits-
Scratch that, actually it’s more like suffer consequence
people say it’s nothing but a pile of tricks
Government’s made up of procrastinators and hypocrites
I always hear the same thing I’m kind of sick of it
Politicians at each other’s throats throwing stones and sticks

And it’s all gonna stay the same
Unless you say something
Nothing’s gonna shift or change

Our lives begin
To end
The day that we become
About things that matter

I’m really getting tired of hearing of folks like Floyd
Lives lost having to plead from the other side of the void
There’s so many victims of systematic racism
Fightin’ off oppression with vigor — it’s the stoic in ’em

Thirteen years of action was the voice of civil rights
From ’55 to ’68, till King’s demise
Somehow we still ain’t get it right but
Yet we still put up a fight for the rights
For the people tryna stay peaceful but
Bits of anger escaped us
We let it out and now the cops shooting citizens
People burning buildings but
Take an eye for an eye and who gon’ see the future, huh?

Some think in their mind taking innocent people’s lives
Is justifiable ’cause their skin color’s different than mine
Hold up
People from the same race is taking they own sisters and brothers
Flat out killing each other, hatin’ on one another

We say “All lives matter” but the whole meaning’s shattered
‘Cause the words don’t match the actions — it’s chatter
We all part of the same quilt, with different patterns

This cold world would be warmer if we all stick together
A group divided ain’t much of a group at all
A giant ain’t a giant if it don’t stand tall

If I don’t speak up, who else gon’ do it?
If I don’t speak out, who else gon’ do it?
You can complain, or you can make improvements
You can sit around or stand up and start a movement

MLK said it best: Don’t let your lives end

Born and raised in Philly, Lamar Reed is a student at the Community College of Philadelphia. He's an aspiring videographer and writer, who's published stories about a mural celebrating a fire department’s...