Hands Up Don't Shoot Team

by Wendy Jewell from The MY HERO Project

Queen McElrath
Queen McElrath
On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Racial tensions exploded and shocked the nation as residents, journalists and police clashed for days. Many tributes poured in from across America and around the world about the injustice. At a high school in Nashville, 2 female high school students felt a need to respond. Below is what was posted days later telling their story.
Posted on August 22, 2014 by admin1 in Academies of Nashville, Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School | Leave a comment
Queen McElrath and Aniea Cody are both students in the Academy of Entertainment Management at Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. As the news reports and social media conversations fill our media channels with information regarding Michael Brown and the situation in Ferguson, Mo. these two young ladies decided to respond. 
"I [Queen] was up at 2:30 in the morning on a Friday watching CNN and seeing the conversations that people were having about the situation in Ferguson. I was really upset about what was happening and I felt that their community was going about their protests the wrong way. I felt like writing a song was the perfect message to get these feelings out to multiple generations.
I wrote the song that night. I finished close to 4 o'clock in the morning and I couldn't sleep because I knew it was something that would make an impact. I worked on it all weekend and presented it to my teacher, Mr. Caldwell, on Monday.
From there, it spiraled into the song production and music video. We hope that this message will show that teens can positively contribute to a volatile situation. We just wanted to recognize what was going on; somewhere in this world there is a community that is hurting and if we work together, we can help heal this situation."
Todd Young, Queen's mentor and teacher in change of Broadcasting and Video Production at her school, put her together with Producer/Director, fellow student, Aniea Cody. They produced the finished product, music video in 4 days, an amazing feat in and of itself.
This was what they produced: HANDS UP DON"T SHOOT, a straight ahead, heartfelt, artistic response to what has seemingly become all too common an occurrence in American society - the shooting of young black men.
Britney Davidson
Britney Davidson

The MY HERO Project awarded HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT First Prize in the Student Mentor category at this year’s MY HERO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL with the awards ceremony November 22nd in Los Angeles. Both young ladies will be attending, along with their mentor, Todd Young.

MY HERO caught up with the three, this past week. Here is what they had to say.

MY HERO: Can you tell MY HERO a little about your school and how it works?

Aniea: “It is an Entertainment Magnet High School, not just camera and music but also marketing, behind the scenes, media, cosmetology, audio production classes and broadcasting, as well as having mentors. For instance we work with Warner Music, who helped producer Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

MY HERO: Did you have to audition to get in?

Todd Young: “It is a public school magnet, an inner city school.”

MY HERO: What was the reaction from your peers at school about the song and the attention it is getting?

Queen: “Everyone was like, so proud. Somebody that’s their age taking a stand. Seeing someone young who cares about what’s going on has a bigger impact.”

MY HERO: Have either of you experienced injustice in your lives or have any of your close friends experience it?

Queen: Personally, no.

MY HERO: So why did it touch you so deeply and motivate you to act so quickly?

Queen: “ Because I felt like injustice for people and police brutality happens everywhere all over the world. I might not have had it and my friends may not have had it but it is a problem in America and that’s what made me want to write about it.

MY HERO: Who inspires you? Who is your hero and why?

Queen: “My sister Britney Davidson. She’s a marine in Japan right now. She inspires me because through everything, hard times, when she felt like giving up and that she just couldn’t do it anymore, she always keeps going.”

Aniea: “My Aunt inspires me because a lot of people told her she can’t do anything. She never listened and went out and did what she wanted to anyway.  She is always there for other people, always willing even though she wasn’t a good student and got held back in the first grade. But that’s because she was too shy. Now she is a rising model and doing a lot of fashion shows in Atlanta, and has come out of her shell.”

MY HERO: What can you tell other youth about taking action?

Queen: “Honestly I would just say get involved. You don’t have to give money to places. You can just get involved and volunteer to do things and be involved with local rallies about injustice. Be involved.

MY HERO: Were you involved before this?

Queen: “ I have always been involved.

Aniea: “If you have an idea don’t be afraid to share it. This is something I want to do but others might think it might be stupid. But if you think there is something you want to do… do it and don’t think about what others are going to say.”

Ania Cody, Director Producer (Todd Young)
Ania Cody, Director Producer (Todd Young)

MY HERO: What has it meant to have a mentor?

Queen: “We are guided. Just like having a parent but at school and for your dreams. You make a lot of mistakes but they are there to help you and correct you and support you along the way. It’s the best school in the nation.”

MY HERO: If you had the attention of the world for 5 minutes what would you do or say?

Queen: “ I honestly would rap the song of Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

Aniea: “I’d probably freak out with stage fright. And then show them the video of Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

MY HERO: Is there anything you’d like to say?

Queen: “I would like to say that my EP is by far the best rap EP that has come out since the 90’s because it has zero profanity and is uplifting and has a message. That message is Never Stop Dreaming.”

Aniea: “ Thanks you for the opportunity and support everyone at my school and at MY HERO has given us so far and I’m looking forward to making bigger and better things in the future.”

And what is in the future for these two bright, talented, articulate young high schoolers?

A proud Todd Young tells us that Aniea has written and will direct her first feature film called WORTH DYING FOR about two young black men who are from the plantations and join a black regiment in the civil war but get separated from their troop during the war. This is the story of what happens to them.

Queen is now signed with Relentless Entertainment. Her song has played on BBC radio in London, she is recognized locally and is filming a second music video of a song she wrote called HUMAN, that Aniea will direct.”

And who is this mentor/teacher that has helped shape the future careers of these two inspiring teenage girls? His name is Anthony “Todd” Young, a life long musician who told me, “All I ever wanted to do was play guitar in a rock and roll band. I’m from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where they shot the documentary Muscle Shoals about the Studio that started the careers of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and too many others to name.”

So Todd came off the road of touring when his young bride became pregnant with twins and he needed to get a more stable job. He has had a very interesting life with several career changes along the way. He was a firefighter, played in a part time band and then decided to go back to school to do premed but in the middle of his degree, both his wife’s parents died so he went into teaching and discovered that he really liked it. Lucky for the his students.

BUT there was one more twist. After a few years of teaching, with his wife’s blessings, he took all his life savings and went back to school to become a pilot. 3 months after starting with United, 9/11 happened and all the latest hired pilots got laid off. So he went back to teaching and the rest, as they say is history. Because of his varied background of skills and his musical gifts, he was instrumental in creating the only school of it’s kind in the country - Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School whose vision is “to equip our students to realize and achieve their potential, to involve families and to strengthen communities.” And they do this by “educating the whole person by engaging our students through academic, creative, athletic, career-based and service experiences through which their character and talents are developed and strengthened.”

Todd Young
Todd Young

Todd Young’s vision for the future of education at his school: “There is a stigma in title one (inner city) schools like ours and in these schools the smart kids sometimes get picked on. It’s not cool to be smart and my vision is to change that and it’s happening. Queen and Aniea will be great role models for showing that when you are smart and you go for it, great things can happen. If you’re smart people need you and then you get access to these cool opportunities and cool jobs. I told Queen that her next move is to be ready with her next song, instead of waiting till you are asked, are you ready? That is a big realization for anyone but especially for these kids who may not have as many opportunities to grab.”


Page created on 3/21/2015 2:40:19 PM

Last edited 1/4/2017 9:40:54 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School - The vision of Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School is to equip our students to realize and achieve their potential, to involve families and to strengthen communities. We are committed to educating the whole person by engaging our students through academic, creative, athletic, career-based and service experiences through which their character and talents are developed and strengthened.
Hands Up Don't Shoot Video - First Place Student/Mentor Video - MY HERO International Film Festival
Relentless Entertainment Record Label - The story of Relentless Entertainment and how this record label has lifted up students and helped them to excel!

Author Info