By Joanna Delalande
Jason Petty shares his rap story and the essence of his identity
"One day my mother was like, 'Okay, what if all your friends decided you had another eye growing out of your cheek and they all made fun of you for that. Would that hurt your feelings?" Jason recalls.
He replied saying, "No, because I don't have another eye coming out of my cheek!"
"Exactly," his mum replied, "They only call you what you allow them to call you. What you accept as true about yourself even though deep down you know it's not.'"
A Spanish-speaking black man in the suburbs; a rapper, dancer and graffiti artist; a self-confessed poetry fanatic, Jason Petty (a.k.a. Propaganda) never fit in anywhere.
"My story is a fish out of water story," he says in a video testimony for I Am Second.
"I grew up in an all-Mexican, super violent neighbourhood. I didn't even know it was as dangerous as it was.
"I was the one black kid, teased because of my colour."
When he speaks, Jason is essentially rapping. Even when he is not making rhymes – there is an evenness and rhythm to his voice that makes it sound like it is crying out for a backing track.
"Later when we moved to the suburbs it was a primarily Caucasian neighbourhood," he continues.
"And now we were the poor kids that just moved in, these weird black people who spoke Spanish, and they just didn't get us."
He explains that being an outsider eventually became the norm for him.
He was made fun of for his differences – as if he had an eye growing out of his cheek.
"I was born the wrong colour, in the wrong neighbourhood, in the wrong decade, to the wrong parents..."
He says he was the butt of a lot of subliminal racist jokes. He was teased and made fun of for his background, so he tried to find his value and identity elsewhere.
Yet there was one thing he knew he was — an artist.
"I began to lean into that during my teenage years and I discovered freestyle; being able to jump in a circle and dance battle. I found myself liking myself again; enjoying the fact that now I wasn't just the black dude. I was the talented one. It was safer for me.
"I kind of cruised through high school having my identity in my skill set."
And at the time Jason was attending his local church but that only seemed to make him stand out even more from the hip hop scene he most identified with.
"In my mind it went back to the same way I grew up; I've been the 'only' my whole life. So if I'm going to be the only here, I'll be the only there."
But he felt called by God in such a strong way he never stopped going to church.
He says he felt like "God was splitting the roof open and speaking directly to me."
He raps in his video testimony as he says:
I was this tagger, slash rapper, son of a black panther [a 1970s pro-violence civil rights gang],
And they got high hopes for him: he's gonna be a pastor.
So should he run with the church boys, the backpackers, [or] the thugs?
And it's funny, it seemed like the Lord's answer was: all of the above!
The revelation that he was actually perfectly fine exactly the way he was came after his father pointed out a passage to him in Psalms. "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (Psalm 139 verse 14).
"I realised my value was not determined by some particular innate quality that I had.
"No," he says, speaking to all of us now, "Your value is because God was willing to pay the cost of His son for you. That's the price He was willing to pay for you.
"Everything you are, your whole goulash of experiences and gifts is included in this action. All the scars. Every hurt, every failure, being spit on walking home; all this, it's on purpose. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You're exactly what He wants you to be."
He says his life has been a proclamation of the truth that his neighbourhood didn't make him. The Creator of the Universe did.
Jason Petty did become a pastor. A youth pastor. He also led a poetry team called Selah, and helped his sister's dance ministry called "Live." And in 2013, he partnered with I Am Second in hosting a poetry contest, Spoken Word Challenge.
"Christ has given me personhood," he says with a tone of genuine gratefulness. •