Bre’Yahna Thompson, 15, of Bradenton, foreground, calls herself a “positive rapper,” and is very tuned in to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Behind Bre’Yahna is her father, Rodney Thompson. RICHARD DYMOND/Bradenton Herald
PALMETTO — Like other communities getting set to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 21, Manatee County’s religious leaders wonder if Dr. King’s message of brotherhood, nonviolence and persistence is getting through to the younger generation. One way that is working, say local pastors, is the recently completed Dr. Martin Luther King Speech and Essay Contest in Manatee County, which involved more than 300 young people writing essays and researching King’s life and work.
Another way is through church, where pastors say a moment of silence and some discussion will be the hallmark of services on Jan. 20 and where a local Jewish temple is holding an interfaith Shabbat service honoring the civil rights leader.
But one talented young local African-American woman is trying another way to share King’s ideals. She wants to use music to reach her generation. Bre’Yahna Thompson, 15, a Bradenton home-schooler who writes poetry, plays the violin and cello, and calls herself a “positive rapper,” is working on a rap song about King that she calls, “The Story of a Leader.”
“The Story of a Leader” will be available on iTunes in a few weeks, said Bre’Yahna, who already has seven songs on iTunes under her stage name, Breeze2Yakneez.
“It will be about the fact that if you peel off all our skin, the only color is blood red,” Bre’Yahna said Friday. “It will be about my life and that, yes, people still do judge me by my color. But I don’t get mad. I just break the mode. I correct them if they judge me by my color by talking about facts and who I am and what I know. They soon see I am not my color. Ruling me out because of my color is not happening. I set my bar high.”
For Bre’Yahna, equality is about character. She has some strong things to say about violence and drugs and, like her mentor Dr. King, is not afraid to say them even though some of her peers might find her views uncool.
“I know that white people died in the civil rights movement,” Bre’Yahna said. “For them, color didn’t matter. I want to remind black people of that fact. I want to make history come alive in my music. My generation doesn’t know its history. They don’t know about Rosa Parks, the civil rights movement and Malcolm X and Dr. King. I say, ‘Don’t you ever take my history away.'”
She has a rap song she performs called “Pause on the Hate,” which is about her appreciation for policemen. She rails against domestic violence in a song called “When The Story Ends.” Her song “I Wonder” is her questioning whether things will ever change.
“I ask my generation,’Why are you killing each other? Why do you sell drugs to each other?'” Bre’Yahna said. Bre’Yahna’s dad, Rodney Thompson of Bradenton, says the reason his daughter is so tuned in to Dr. King’s views and politics is that the two would sit and watch movies together when she was just 5 years old.
“We watched ‘Roots,’ ‘Mississippi Burning,’ ‘Malcolm X,’ ‘American History X,’ and other movies like that,” Thompson said, adding that he wished many dads would do the same thing. “She was like a sponge.”
Like Bre’Yahna, The Rev. Sirrnest Webster of Bible Baptist Church, 1720 Sixth Ave. W., Palmetto, also got King’s message when he was young and, like Bre’Yahna, it was a parent who was the guiding light.
“I was in first grade when I realized who Dr. King was,” said Webster. “I grew up in Bradenton and my mother, Sallie Powell, took me to Emmanuel Baptist Church with the Rev. David Jones and it was in that church that I found Dr. King.
“I never forgot the sacrifice that he made for us to have equality,” Webster said of King. “For me, Dr. King was an icon, a cornerstone, a foundation. What I learned from him was perseverance, to never quit, to never allow your environment to stop you from your destiny.”
For the seventh year in a row, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. interfaith Shabbat service is to be held at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at Temple Emanu-El, 151 McIntosh Road, Sarasota.
Joining Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Brenner J. Glickman on the pulpit will be Bishop Henry Porter and the Westcoast School for Human Development. Following Glickman’s Torah reading, Porter will speak on the legacy of Dr. King and the Westcoast School Choir will perform.