Big Sammy found her voice through rap music. Now, the 20-year-old is organizing protests to help others find theirs.
Also known as Sammy Cooper, the artist has lived in Arlington most of her life. She was practically a toddler when she began singing, she says, but took a break for a few years before bouncing back to belt out her own lyrics.
“Eventually, I wanted to get back into it,” she says. “But I didn’t want to sing anymore, so I thought I’d give rap a chance.
“I just kept going with it,” she continues. “I’m really diverse. I can sing and all that, but most of my music you hear is rap.”
Cooper and her friends spread their message through music videos, on YouTube and streaming platforms like Spotify, Sound Cloud, Apple Play and Google Play.
“I was doing local shows in Dallas and Arlington before corona came around,” Cooper says. “They’re more underground [places] but, you know, I’m trying to get more mainstream.”
For now, the vocalist haunts open mics and artisan showcases performing live at places like Truth Vinyl and Mavericks Bar and Grill in Arlington as well as the Green Elephant in Dallas.
“You won’t really hear me say specifics like racism and black crime and police brutality and all of that,” she says of her lyrics. ”If you listen, it's all about unity, it’s all about being loyal. And that’s kind of, like, what I feel like I’m doing right now.”
Cooper is referring to the protests she organized in Arlington after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last month while in police custody in Minneapolis after saying the words “I can’t breathe” as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
At an Arlington protest organized by Cooper on Monday, there was some rapping and spoken words before the marching began.
“I know some things happened afterward,” Cooper says referring to reports of looting and mayhem that followed, “but for the most part, it remained peaceful.”
Still, Cooper says she knew that people had more to say, so she organized another protest at S.J. Stovall Park on Thursday that drew a diverse crowd of several hundred people, including 22-year-old Benito Lopez.
“I am Hispanic,” says Lopez. “And I think it’s great to show that my people are here with them.”
Jackie Perez, 23, who described herself as an artist from Watauga, was also there.
“We wanted to hear what they have to say,” she says of the organizers. “That’s the main reason we came.”
As people began to speak through an open mic, volunteer voter registrar Ian Pearce sat nearby. Natori Harris, 24, took the mic to talk about black mothers afraid for the lives of their teenage sons “to go as far as down the street, to be in a car” before mentioning the enormous budgets of police departments.
“What do you need funding for if you’re not protecting those you are over?” she asked.
As a helicopter flew briefly overhead threatening to overshadow the sound of those who spoke, the discussion continued. Among other things, people talked about fearing what their unborn children may have to go through, slanted local media coverage and unequal justice. Some spoke of leveraging their buying power while others shared the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and memories of their friend Christian Taylor, a black teen who died after being shot by a white Arlington police officer in 2015.
Cooper then suggested taking a longer look at the reasons why some protesters might feel the need to smash windows and grab merchandise while expressing their frustration.
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“Why would they do that?" she asked choking back emotion while pondering the possibility that maybe, because of economic strain, that’s the only way they feel they could ever obtain “that one thing” they feel they want or need.
Overall, Cooper says she’s proud of the city of Arlington and how the protests have played out.
“A lot of people are afraid to speak up,” she says. ”If we keep doing this, not just for Black Lives Matter or police brutality, with any issue in the city ... I want people to know they can speak up and not be afraid or get in trouble and things like that.
“My goal to keep everyone safe,” she says, “no one getting hurt, no one going to jail.”