The singer opens up about an incident that inspired his song about systemic racism.
For many Americans, knowledge of the Stand Your Ground Law was non-existent before Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. The incident that occurred in Feb 2012 created a stirring in the Black community, opening eyes to systemic racism in the legal system.
Elijah Blake was around the same age as Martin at the time.
The Dominican-Haitian singer, raised in South Florida just signed to Def Jam and was building his career as a writer for the likes of Usher, Chris Brown and Rihanna.
"I remember, I got off the bus, and I was walking towards the pool with my friends," he said about an incident as a child in Delray Beach, Florida.
"I was the only Black one in the neighborhood, so all my friends —there was six of us — they're all White and Hispanic. This cop drives in front of us, and he's like, 'Whatcha' doing around these parts, boy?' And that was the first time... because, I thought racism was dead. I thought it was in the history books with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I never identified with it, or felt like somebody was being prejudiced toward me."
"I was like, 'Get your broke ass up out of the neighborhood. You can't afford to live here.' And he stops. He gets out of the car. And he puts his hand on his gun. He says, 'You talk really tough. I wonder if you would talk so tough without your friends around.' And he said, 'Do you know what I can do to you?' That memory kind of went away, until it happened to Trayvon."
The incident resonates even more now because of Blake's song "Hanging Tree" made for SANKOFA.org. The organization founded by Harry Belafonte gathered several artists, musicians and activists for their EP17 Campaign. With this song —talking about the trauma of lynchings and racism— Blake hopes to tap something in everyone to be conscious and active in fighting injustice.
"I would have literally been Trayvon," he said. "I probably was 11 years old. And he [officer] puts his hand on his gun to try to give me a message. I'm getting chills talking about it. But, I literally could have been Trayvon in that moment."
"Our friends don't even know how close they've come to being a Trayvon or a Philando [Castile]. It can happen to anybody."