Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Coping creatively: Jacinta Henry is a songwriter for change

March 8, 2023
<p>Social science education freshman Jacinta Henry performs a song she wrote in The State News&#x27; newsroom on March 1, 2023. After writing the song, she performed it at the Michigan State Capitol on Feb. 20, during a protest following the mass shooting at Michigan State University.</p>

Social science education freshman Jacinta Henry performs a song she wrote in The State News' newsroom on March 1, 2023. After writing the song, she performed it at the Michigan State Capitol on Feb. 20, during a protest following the mass shooting at Michigan State University.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Social science education freshman Jacinta Henry started writing songs when she was 14 years old. But she hadn’t written a song in a year until the Feb. 13 shooting on Michigan State University's campus.

She knew she had to take a stance with her talent and use music to heal herself — and hopefully the community as well.

Henry said she knew she would be able to articulate what she wanted to say through lyrics. Henry performed her original song “America” in front of a crowd at a "Sit Down, Speak Up" protest at the Capitol. Other students read speeches and spoken-word poetry.

“We’ve been fighting since we could talk / Been protesting since we could walk,” she sang in front of the crowd.

Henry had written about school shootings before when she was in high school and her school faced threats of a shooting. But she said that it was hard to write her original song, "America," which is about herself and her own experiences at MSU. 

She was encouraged by her community and the knowledge that she has now shared something with all of her college peers. This inspired her to tell the story shared fear on her campus and what gun control means for her generation, she said.

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“Along with the wonderful words that everybody had, I wanted to add something that would add music and another form of expression to the many feelings that we all have, as well as something that might be relatable,” Henry said.

Henry said she honestly could not remember writing it —  the song just came to her on the Friday before the protest while she was sitting in her bed. She began playing and singing along to her favorite chords on her baritone ukulele.

She said it seemed obvious what she wanted to say. The lyrics, which center around being exhausted of the constant threat of gun violence around her, came natural to her.

“I didn't have to reach that hard for it because it's kind of what's been sitting in front of me,” Henry said. “We've been doing this. We're tired of it. We wish we didn't have to and yet, we continue to.”

Henry said performing the song at the steps of the Capitol building while singing directly to those who worked inside, was both “heartbreaking and amazing.” While performing, she thought of when she was in eighth grade, looking up to the kids who started March For Our Lives advocacy group after the Parkland shooting. She remembered vividly one of the girls who survived Parkland singing a song at one of the first protests.

Henry and her friend learned to play that song all these years ago, admiring what the girl was able to do with the power of her voice. She said it was a total full circle moment in “a really awful way,” standing next to David Hogg, founder of March for Our Lives, five years after. She never thought she would have to be in that mental space with the Parkland survivors.

“I never thought I'd have to be here as well, but since I'm here, I should use my voice and use something that nobody else was doing right then,” Henry said.

Henry admired how her peers utilized a variety of creative outlets to voice their anger or fear, with speeches full of passion and poetry and even visual art through the use of signs. Adding her music was just another element to express the emotions of her peers, she said.

While Henry said she doesn't dedicate her life to creating art, it’s necessary for her to create to enter a happy place where she isn’t worried about anything else. Whether it’s writing a song, performing music with her friends, painting or even crocheting, she finds peace in focusing on something that she’s making, especially when she shares it with the people in her life.

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