Before Dylan Phillips went by the stage name nobigdyl., he was one of a few black teens at his high school in the small, rural town of Bell Buckle, Tenn.; facing common struggles of adolescence, as well as some more unique.

Public enemy number one in the Bible belt /
High school taught me how survival felt

During his sophomore year, he dated a well-known upperclassmen that was white.

“It really put a target on me,” he said.

There were not many interracial relationships in his school or immediate community. White students who had grown up with the girl didn’t approve of the relationship.

“They were like, ‘We‘re gonna kill him, or we’re gonna hurt him’ … The black kids that I hung out with, especially the older ones, were protective and saying nothing was gonna happen, and that caused more conflict between the two,” nobigdyl. said.

One day, a guy from the group of angry white students brought a hunting rifle in his truck to school.

“I’m not saying that he was gonna do anything,” nobigdyl. said. “A lot of kids kept their hunting rifles in their trucks. He either got suspended or expelled for having that on school grounds.”

Despite the threats and possible danger, nobigdyl. wasn’t afraid at the time. He didn’t think the anything would actually happen.

On his song “since.,” track No. 9 of his free album smoke signal., nobigdyl. mentions the Confederate flag, a subject that has been amplified in national news this year.

Hand-me-down hatin’ Rebel flags really had me down

nobigdyl. saw the flag often in his community and those nearby. Students from his high school flew it on their pick-up trucks and wore shirts that depicted it or with phrases like, “The south will rise again.”

“That’s kind of terrifying in a way for somebody who was raised like me,” said nobigdyl., who had moved to Tennessee from upstate New York.

As a teen, he was told not to go places where the flag was displayed or stay there after sunset. But he knows that not everyone who flies the flag does so with a heart of hatred or the negativity it represents to him.

“Some people do have the connection to the flag’s history,” he said. “When they fly it or wear it, they are making a certain set of statements, including ones with racial implications, but there are a lot of people in the South who see it as something that represents the South or their culture. But for somebody coming from other places, that’s not what we’re taught.”

nobigdyl. found friends like Bryan Keith Hayes, who he shouted out on “since.,” who grew up with the confederate flag as a sentiment of tradition but put it on the back burner.

“[Hayes] doesn’t think [the confederate flag] is a big deal, but he wouldn’t let that come between us,” nobigdyl. said. “It didn’t take priority over friendship.”

However, nobigdyl. feels as though some people put heritage, culture, things handed down, objects, banners and ideologies before other humans and souls.

“It exhausts me and pains me to see Christians doing that because if you look at scripture, there’s no greater love than to lay your life down for your fellow man. But you literally won’t lay your flag down,” he said. “We’re not imitating Christ at that point.”

He says if you see that something is hurting someone else, no matter who’s right or wrong, you should lay that thing down and ask why something hurts with the intention of being empathetic — not proving them wrong.

“Every time somebody speaks on one of these issues [racial injustice, racial prejudice] a lot of the default Christian response is, ‘Why are we talking about this? Why don’t we talk about something else?’”

Some people would rather talk about another sin or issue they’re not in danger of committing, he said, race-related conversations make people feel uncomfortable, but that should push them to want to figure out why.

“They’re afraid that they may have some remnant of that in their heart or feel accused of it,” he said.

Despite that, he encourages Christians to connect with those hurting from these issues, learn what their perspective is, lay pride and preconceived notions down and seek God’s face and scripture to see where Holy Spirit is leading them in those situations.

“Have empathy, humility and seek His face,” nobigdyl. said. “If people did that, these conversations would be a lot different.”