GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The national anthem plays every year before the Big Game.

But it wasn’t until more recently that another song, “Lift Every Voice” — known as the Black national anthem — was also performed.

Music often has a way of evoking emotion. But sometimes, even more powerful than the song itself, is the history it carries.

“Music has the ability to change the way you think and the way you feel and the way you react,” said Lisa Knight, the executive director of the Girls Choral Academy in Grand Rapids.

The Girls Choral Academy sings "Lift Every Voice."
The Girls Choral Academy sings “Lift Every Voice.”

Knight knows there’s strength in song. She also knows the weight the hymn carries.

“That song was written for Black people by Black people,” Knight said.

Former NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson wrote “Life Every Voice and Sing” as a poem in 1900. His brother later composed music for the lyrics and it became known as the Black national anthem, a rallying cry that underscored the civil rights movement.

“It was something that people grabbed ahold of and sung when they talked about the struggles and the impact of oppression and racism and the things that they dealt with,” Knight said.

Those struggles are now a lesson for this generation.

“It’s a seed that can be planted,” she said.

It’s also an opportunity to inspire.

The Girls Choral Academy performed the piece at DeVos Place for an event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“They throughout their lives will be able to reflect back on the words of this song and how it impacts them as a people,” Knight said.

Knight wants the song to bind all communities of color, and also serve as a blueprint for change.

“There’s a lot more work that needs to be done and I hope that we can utilize these different venues to begin to create conversation and opportunities for people of color in this community,” Knight said.