How Minneapolis teen Moyana Olivia brings awareness to racial injustice through music

The 18-year-old's song, "X-Ray," sheds light on police brutality in America.

October 30, 2020, 3:29 PM

Young music artist Moyana Olivia says she hopes incorporating social justice activism into her latest song, "X-Ray," will help drive young people to vote in the upcoming election.

"I started recording music when I was about 15," Olivia, now 18, told "The View" co-host Sunny Hostin. "From there, I started to kind of incorporate social justice activism into my music."

"X-Ray" describes the growing tension Americans feel surrounding racial injustice and police brutality. The music video -- featuring Mac Turner, a young artist also hailing from Minnesota, produced by J.T. Evans and directed by Martaize Smith -- includes images and footage from Black Lives Matter protests ignited by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this May.

Despite the song's significance in 2020, Olivia said she wrote the song at just 15 years old in response to the death of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez on July 6, 2016, during a traffic stop.

On June 16, 2017, Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety. The family of Castile reached a nearly $3 million settlement with St. Anthony Village.

Castile's death and the officer's acquittal drew protests across the country, and ultimately drove Olivia to write the song "X-Ray."

"I sang it at a lot of live events from 2017 to summer of 2020, but I was kind of hoping that I wouldn't need to keep singing it," Olivia said. "After George Floyd, I made the decision to really hunker down and kind of produce and release the song to raise awareness to police brutality."

On Sept. 25, four months after Floyd was killed while being detained by police on Memorial Day, Olivia released the music video.

"Everybody has a sort of platform that they can use, whether it's talking to their family and friends or social media," Olivia said. "I just love music so much. That's really where I feel like I can connect with my identity and use my voice."

"I have such a strong and powerful love for music. I feel like I then have a responsibility to use that platform to raise awareness to things that are important to me as well as the people around me," she added.

Olivia also incorporated the memory of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old from Louisville who was shot and killed by police officers after they executed a "no-knock" search warrant on a home on March 13, although the officers claim they identified themselves prior to entry. She described that addition as "most important" to her.

Within "X-Ray"'s interlude, listeners can hear a newscaster describing Taylor's case, and in the second verse, Olivia strategically included doorbells to send a message about the fatal incident.

"I included doorbells in the background, just to kind of raise awareness to the fact that, according to witnesses, officers didn't even do her the dignity of announcing who they were before they invaded her home," Olivia said. "As a Black woman, that case really resonates with me."

She went on to say that while Taylor's case is "very scary," it also "motivates" her to advocate for her life and the lives of those around her.

Minneapolis teen musician Moyana Olivia poses with her guitar in an undated photo. Olivia has shed light on racial injustice in America through her music video "X-Ray".
Kayla Maring/Lifetime Adventures Photography

Along with raising awareness on social and racial injustice in America, Olivia hopes her song inspires people to vote in the upcoming election and increases young voter turnout.

"I wrote the song, kind of, according to a philosophy that I have where I think it's important to address things that are difficult and negative about our society, but then you also need to include a tangible call to action so that people aren't just observing something tragic and moving on with their lives," Olivia said.

At the end of the music video, Olivia, Turner and other artists involved in the track encourage people to get out and vote.

"You have the power to fight for freedom and justice for all," Olivia says in the music video. "If you want an end to police brutality against people of color use your voice and exercise your right to vote."

Olivia voted for the first time this year and described it as "fun" and "empowering."

"It was very exciting to kind of go through the website and make sure I had my plans together," she said. "I checked the website like every single day just to make sure that my vote was counted."

"Although there's a lot of cynicism about the political system that we have today, you can't reform a system without engaging in it to a certain extent," Olivia said.

Olivia also discouraged abstaining from voting as a form of political activism, saying it ultimately "has the opposite effect that you would want."

"Don't think of voting as ... the only thing that I can do to take one step to make the world that I want to see," Olivia added. "Voting is definitely a part of that process, but it's not the only avenue towards change."

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