Ric Wilson was on the scene when, on July 26, a crowd of men, women and children was pepper sprayed by Cleveland police after the people confronted law enforcement for trying to arrest a 14-year-old boy.

“It was just like horrific seeing this image I’ll never get out of my face,” the Chicago rapper says during an exclusive interview with HipHopDX.

Wilson was attending The Movement For Black Lives National Convening in Cleveland with the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100). There was an irregularly large number of police in the area because of the conference and surrounding events. Shortly after the closing ceremonies of the three-day convention, police officers questioned a boy who they thought was intoxicated in public.

“Folks had an idea that they were gonna pull something like that,” Wilson says of the cops’ actions.

A crowd confronted the officers and when the boy was handcuffed and put into a police car, they formed a barricade so the car couldn’t drive away. The boy was given a breathalyzer test, which showed that he was not under the influence.

“That was another like, ‘What the fuck?’” Wilson says.

Wilson says the police grew more hostile and the scene intensified. After being sprayed with mace, the people ran to the nearest convenience store to buy milk to relieve their pain. The reaction of the store owners was “mind-blowing.”

“Folks that own the convenience stores around us are telling us they can’t sell us milk because we’re bringing trouble to the store or we’re bringing bad attention to the store,” he says.

The boy was moved to an ambulance and eventually his mother arrived on the scene. The crowd got out of the street, according to her wishes. The police released the boy into her custody and she drove away with her son unharmed.

“It’s like we won,” Wilson says. “It’s a war going on, but we won that battle and that boy was safe that night.”

Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” Helps Create “Beautiful Moment”

Somebody in the crowd played Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” on his phone after the boy was freed and the crowd started chanting the lyrics to the song, which Wilson says was played throughout the conference.

“We’re in the street and we’re celebrating and folks put on Kendrick Lamar, ‘We’re gonna be alright,’” he explains of the aftermath of the encounter with the police. “Everyone just starts, it’s like a party. There’s this very, very beautiful moment where there was this butterfly and the butterfly literally, I’m not even saying this to be dramatic, the butterfly is flying over the crowd and like everyone, it’s just a very beautiful sight.”

The song, “Alright,” is from the Top Dawg Entertainment rapper’s To Pimp a Butterfly album, which explores themes of race and identity.

“I think the interesting thing about the butterfly and us singing Kendrick was the idea that even though the butterfly has been pimped, beat, and harassed, it’ll still overcome its trials and fly,” Wilson says reflecting on the symbol of the album title. “I feel like the Black folks of America are represented in that butterfly that flew over us after they released the boy.”

The 20-year-old says “Alright” is “the modern-day 2015 chant ‘We Shall Overcome.’”

“Everyone just started chanting the chorus, so it wasn’t just the song,” he says. “‘We Shall Overcome’ in the 60s, folks were in the streets literally saying, ‘We gonna be alright, do ya hear me’ and chanting his actual lyrics. I think that was a very powerful moment because it’s like, ‘Damn, we just took these Rap lyrics, turned it into a protest chant.’”

Lamar is a big inspiration for Wilson, who says the Compton, California emcee speaks for all Black people when he touches the mic. Unlike most artists who are considered political or conscious, Wilson says Lamar has avoided the “underground” title and is using his celebrity to bring a message of hope to the Black community.

“We’re all one big family,” Wilson says. “I think Kendrick, when that song plays, ‘We gonna be alright,’ he’s talking about all of us.”

Wilson says that even though the event in Cleveland was a victory, he knows the war for equality is still being waged. Ralkina Jones, a Cleveland woman, was found dead in her jail cell the same day of the pepper spraying.

“It’s a bittersweet victory,” Wilson says of freeing the boy that day, noting the deaths of Sandra Bland and Sam DuBose as further evidence of the long road ahead.

Wilson hopes to follow in Lamar’s footsteps. He works as a communications coach for BYP100 and used social media to document the events in Cleveland. His posts were picked up by various news publications. He seeks to raise awareness about social issues and inspire change through his music as well. His debut mixtape, Penny Raps, features tracks confronting racism and economic inequalities in America.

“One of my goals is for folks to actually be chanting one of Ric’s lyrics at a protest or at a rally or any sort of demonstration that was convened against capitalism or racism,” he says. “I think that’s really, really dope. That’s like the goal for me. So to see that happen, like, ‘Oh, wow. OK, it can happen.’”

Below is the premiere of “You Live” by Ric Wilson featuring Ramaj Eroc:

Here are Wilson’s posts from the events in Cleveland: