Jazariah Farmer reeled with the rest of the world last year as COVID-19 brought school, going to stores and playing with friends to a halt.
So, when her mother’s boss challenged her to write a song about it all, she had a lot to say.
“It just happened,” said Farmer, a fifth-grader from Benton Harbor, Michigan. “I just started writing it.”
Here are some of the feelings that flowed out:
Online school is way too boring. Waking up at 9 I think is torture. I miss my friends way too much. We use Google Meet just to keep in touch. I just can’t wait ’til this is all over. It will be a heavy weight lifted off our shoulders.
She also wrote:
Take your vitamins. Use precaution. People are dying way too often. I gotta stay safe. I gotta stay healthy. I gotta play the cards that my great God dealt me.
When Benton Harbor community influencer Traci Burton heard Farmer’s song, titled “Corona Season,” she knew just the way to spread its message to the community.
Burton had recently partnered with Spectrum Health Lakeland in an effort to enlist the talent of local music artists to develop COVID-19 safety and health awareness messages tailored toward youth.
“Jazariah was a great person to carry the message. Our kids were listening, they just needed an avenue to get their voices heard,” Burton said. “She’s only 11 years old, and she wrote and performed the entire song. She’s incredibly talented.”
The partnership, funded through a grant from the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, aimed to address the disparate impact of COVID-19 experienced by African Americans in Benton Harbor, according to Lynn Todman, PhD, vice president of health equity at Spectrum Health Lakeland.
Along with Burton’s work, the grant also allowed Spectrum Health Lakeland to offer free services to the Benton Harbor community, including COVID-19 testing, health screenings, personal protective equipment, school kits for remote learning, mental health services and social and legal services.
Dr. Todman said that in the process of that outreach campaign, they realized that Spectrum Health’s existing communication channels were not reaching young people. So, they started talking with Burton because of her social media connections and rapport with Benton Harbor’s youth.
Burton, 26, has had considerable success in outreach. In 2019, she produced a video with Benton Harbor Area Schools’ students that went viral, garnering over 200,000 views on Facebook. Her community activism was featured in a Time magazine feature article in February 2020.
Burton told the team they needed to communicate in new ways in order to reach young people, and she suggested hip hop.
The outcome included helping Farmer co-produce her song and rallying other artists to create a campaign centered on a song and video called “Play Your Part.”
“‘Play Your Part’ took basic health information that was coming out of our Spectrum Health locations, as well as the health departments, and repackaged it in a language that resonated with the community,” Dr. Todman said. “We are working to reimagine communication because we don’t have all the answers on how to best communicate a message, and we often don’t understand the communities we’re trying to communicate with. That shows up in information gaps and it undermines health in the communities we serve.”
It’s a mission Burton fully embraced.
“It goes to show that there are creative ways to discuss and address disparities within communities,” Burton said. “This is just an example of how we can use art and hip hop to create change and to make messages more digestible for audiences.”
Farmer provided the young talent they needed.
She’s proud of her creation, especially when her entire school watched the video one Friday afternoon—dancing and singing along.
“A lot of people said they liked it,” Farmer said. “It made me feel good.”
Her mother, Teara Richardson, is still amazed by what came of a chance meeting with Burton. Richardson was running her pop-up children’s clothing boutique in a local mall when Burton walked by and they started talking. Burton asked Farmer if she could perform the song right there, and she didn’t hesitate.
Richardson said she drew a crowd and earned rousing applause.
“Jazariah has been trying to rap and dance since she was 3,” Richardson said. “I am her No. 1 supporter.”