Student Songwriters Promoting Justice and Understanding

BreakFree Education’s annual Unsung Songwriting Competition gives students in the juvenile and criminal justice systems the opportunity to explore policy issues that impact their lives and harness the power of music to create, produce, and share songs that address issues related to juvenile justice reform. The program includes a five-day curriculum of 60-minute lessons, which are facilitated by teachers, with the remainder of time open to creating, revising, and selecting songs for schoolwide contests that lead to selections for the year-end Unsung Competition. Soundtrap was proud once again to support the 2021 competition by giving all participants access to the online studio, along with tutorials, to enable professional-quality music production.

It was yet another successful year for Unsung, with incredible songs submitted from around the country. We’re pleased to share the top five songs from the competition with you below, and you can also listen to each of them on the YouTube Playlist.

First Place – R3M3MB3R

Artist: K.J.C.

Grayson County Post, Texas

In the first place song, artist K.J.C. reflects on his mistakes and shares the lessons he’s learned. His message is about understanding―both giving himself a chance to be understood, and inviting others to do the same.

He says, “I wrote the song because I understand what it means to struggle. I hope others can connect and understand my struggle as I try to connect and understand theirs.”

Second Place – How I Feel

Artists: C.M. and Z.W.

JC Montgomery, California

The second place song also features lyrics about reflection. The artists consider the opportunity they have in front of them to make changes and ultimately have a brighter future.

“‘You have to separate to elevate.’ To me that means you have to separate yourself from the negativity to get higher in life,” says C.M. Adds Z.W., “‘Time alone means time to evolve.’ To me this means when you are alone it helps you better yourself and think more about decisions you made in the past and how they reflect on decisions you will make in the future.”

Third Place – Impact Statement

Artists: Omar O. Jacquez “Q” F.

Donald E. Long Juvenile, Oregon

The artists make a strong statement about many of the challenges that persist in society. They send a message that the goal is to achieve peace, but make clear that it’s difficult to do so without directly addressing the areas in which we are coming up short.

Fourth Place – We Dissent

Artists: Angel, Daimien, Terrance, Tamir, Christian, Kenny, Toby, and Chance

Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, California

The creators of the fourth place song band together to voice opposition to the planned closure of their facility, which to them represents the second chance they received―and the potential second chance for any youth who would come behind them. They’re directly familiar with the importance of these resources.

“This song is our way of voicing our opinion about how the closure is going to affect not just us, but future youth going through the same struggle we face at a young age,” they said. “We are lucky to be the last wave in DJJ, but kids coming up under us will only have the possibility of a county juvenile system or the adult side and most likely not the same support and resources that we have here in DJJ.”

Fifth Place – Hear Me Out

Artists: Daimien, Terrance, Kenny, and Chance

Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, California

This song is the artists’ assertion that they deserve to have a voice. In the lyrics, they take the opportunity to express themselves and give listeners an opportunity to understand their perspectives and their struggles.

“People are quick to make assumptions without asking us solely based on what we look like or where we came from,” says Daimien. “They don’t value our voice. They try to dictate our future without our input. We wrote this song so people can hear us. I can’t vote until I get off parole. I look forward to using my voice, but until then I will continue to make music with a purpose in order to be heard.”