RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Jackson Haynes has been expressing himself through singing for as long as he can remember. Now, he plans to release his first original song with the hope of encouraging others to be unapologetically themselves.

Haynes, 19, said he was constantly surrounded by music growing up. He said his song, “Hear My Voice,” is based on his experiences growing up with autism and how he felt very isolated for a lot of his life.

“Sometimes, I didn’t fit in, sometimes I fit in too well,” Haynes said. “What I wanted was the right balance in between the two.”

He said he always wanted to stand out and make himself known to the world in a positive way; in the way he wanted to portray himself.

“But, when you’re autistic in a world that wasn’t meant for you, the difference is almost always negative,” Haynes said.

He said he didn’t know he was autistic until age 10, and even then, he didn’t fully understand it – or its impact.

Haynes said that during the pandemic, he connected with other autistic people online, which made him realize that he could define his own identity.

“I feel as if those weird things, those problems I had were never actually problems in the first place,” Haynes said. 

Haynes said he knows that he has the talent and skills to succeed in the singing industry and hopes it will be enough to take him where he wants to go: the top

“I’m not the first one who’s wanted to make his voice heard, but I plan to be one of the world who succeeds in a way none of us ever have before,” Haynes said.

Andrea Leggett and Warren Carroll co-own Fourth Messenger Entertainment, which works with people who want to turn their negative experiences into art they share with the world. 

Haynes is a part of the entertainment group and has been working with them to produce his song. He is currently working on the music video, which will be released later this year. Below, is the instrumental track to the song.

Leggett, Carroll and Craig Simmons all work at United Methodist Family Services, a social services company based out of Richmond.

Craig Simmons works as a therapist at UMFA in the Courage 2 Succeed program, which supports youth with neurological differences.

Simmons said he met Haynes two years ago when he entered the program and that Haynes immediately said he wanted to change the narrative surrounding people with mental disabilities.

“Every person we have involved with Fourth Messenger has the same story of taking some hardship, pain or whatever and turning it into art,” Carroll said.

Haynes said he wants to be a trailblazer for other people who are different. He knows that he will be faced with pushback from people who don’t want to see him succeed, but knows that won’t stop him.

“If you want to make change, real change, you can’t just play by everyone else’s rules,” Haynes said. “You have to make your own way.”

He said that people with autism are so different from one another and he wants to highlight that because he believes it is something people overlook.

“You can give us functioning labels, you can tell us we don’t look that bad, you can deny our individual support needs, it doesn’t change anything,” Haynes said. “And, when you do, it’s like you’re denying us our right to live.”

Haynes said he’s found his purpose through singing and sharing his experiences through music. 

“All of a sudden, my once confusing life makes sense now,” Haynes said. “It’s all been leading to this and I now know what I must become.”

He said he made the whole song himself and that although it tells his story, it is also meant to connect with the larger autistic community.

“It starts out in a very melancholy way and then gets very small, but as I keep going it builds and it grows,” Haynes said. “And in the second chorus, it hits a point where I just tear out my heart, my soul, my mind and my strength and wrap it in a box with a bow and deliver it to anyone who’s out there and hoping they take it how I want.”

He said that he wants to challenge the norms and narratives surrounding people with disabilities while also furthering his career and impact on the world. He wants that impact to be lasting and positive.

“I hope it’s a song that people keep using and keep singing for a long time,” Haynes said. “Something that the general conscience doesn’t just forget about and that it leads back to me.”

He said that no matter what people think about him, he’s going to continue to be a deafening voice for people who are different.

“I want to be the one to break down the door, so the rest of us can come through,” Haynes said. “I want to create art that matters, songs that matter, moving pictures that matter, stories that matter.”

People can follow along with Haynes’ journey on his TIKTOK page, here and his SoundCloud here.