Hip-hop artist David Anthony Herring says his stage name, Sent Back, defines his mission.
Herring believes he went to heaven after he nearly died in an accident nine years ago, but was instructed to return home to proclaim the Gospel to his peers.
Herring was 11 when a car hit him as he crossed State Road 50 to join his friends before performing in an outdoor Easter play with them at Courts of Praise Church in the Ridge Manor Community Center. He was thrown 35 feet through the air and hit the pavement headfirst.
"I remember seeing angels and going to heaven," Herring, now 20, said about his experience in the spring of 2002. "I remember Jesus and my grandfather telling me to come back to Earth, that it wasn't my time yet. I feel that I'm sent back to reach my generation with a message of hope and faith."
Herring's parents were on the scene the night their son almost died and prayed for his life. "The captain (from Hernando County Fire Rescue) happened to be passing by and saw these people alongside the road, and the people flagged him over," said David Lee Herring. "So he started working on David Anthony by himself, and then a volunteer firefighter lady came by and helped intubate him. They said he survived because of the quick response. From the beginning, God had his hand on him."
After being in a coma at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa for 21 days, Herring was moved to the Pediatric Inpatient Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at Tampa General Hospital. Twenty-five days after the accident, he began to utter small words and form short sentences.
Nearly 13 weeks after the accident, Herring had recovered sufficiently for him and his father to go and thank the rescue workers. "It was unbelievable," rescue worker Tony Carollo said to the Times in 2002. "He is a miracle kid."
The Herrings agree that a miracle occurred that night.
"I've seen many miracles of God in my life, but when I saw this with my son it made my faith even stronger," said Tonita Herring, David Anthony's mother. "When I prayed that night, God told me the best was yet to come. Through all of this, we have seen the best, because out of that he started coming up with his music and developed the artistic area of his life."
Herring had written a song even before the accident, his mother said.
"When he was 10, he wrote a song and it said, 'When the strife and the hard times come, don't be in despair because God is there with you and he's going to see you through.' "
His mother, who never left her son's side for the two months he was in the hospital, said she, her husband and their daughter, Jessica, would play David Anthony's song on a recorder in the hospital room.
"The nurses came to hear his song, so he was being a witness even when he was in his bed with a coma," Tonita Herring said.
Once Herring was released from the hospital, rehabilitation took about two years.
"I had to relearn how to walk, talk, eat and the biggest thing for me — to read," Herring said. "I couldn't read at all after the accident, and the accident left me with severe dyslexia. I can now read on maybe a fifth-grade level, but my spelling is terrible."
Despite his reading difficulties, Herring has a good memory. "I don't write down any of my lyrics," he said. "I couldn't read them if I did. I just remember them in my head."
After the accident, and despite battling dyslexia, migraines and neurological damage to his left side, Herring also taught himself guitar, bass, drums, congas, timbales and some keyboard.
He recently released an 11-track CD called The Misfit. The songs were recorded and mixed at Shekina Studios in Spring Hill. Herring wrote the lyrics for all of the tracks except one; he made the music on his computer using FL Studio.
Herring had already begun performing Christian music in local and out-of-state churches with his father, a Spanish teacher at Parrott Middle before the accident. While the father rapped, the son provided backup.
"He's had it in the blood from the time he was little," David Lee Herring said. "All things work together for good to them that choose the Lord. You couldn't see it when it was happening. But now that he's got the CD out and he's able to minister to kids and he's out there giving his testimony about how he went to heaven, we can see where this was going."
Now, Herring would like to reach as many people as possible with his testimony and Gospel message. He has performed at Springs of Lake Church in Spring Hill and Church of God of Prophecy near Brooksville and at a detention center in Tampa. He has performances booked for September and October, including one for the Haitian Journey Foundation that will raise money to help people in Haiti.
In June, Herring performed at the God Belongs in My City event in Spring Hill and found that his CD was a hit.
"I took 49 copies of the CD and offered them for free," he said. "After I performed (the song) The Misfit, I was mobbed. Before I blinked, the CDs were all gone."
Herring would like to sell some copies and recoup the $2,000 it took to produce the album and begin providing himself with an income.
The Misfit has a hip-hop/rap presentation of the Gospel message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ integrated into almost every song, along with Scripture. It also deals with social issues that affect teens, such as not fitting in, looking for love in the wrong places, anorexia, abortion, drive-by shootings, the economy and domestic violence.
"My goal is that my music will inspire someone else that, in spite of their obstacles, they can make it," Herring said.
One song, Beautiful Star, was written for a friend.
"It's about what girls are going through, but it's mainly about my friend who was raped at a young age," Herring said. "She told me one time she doesn't feel beautiful. When I look at her, she's a very beautiful girl. So that really tugged on my heart."
That was the first song written for his CD.
"I also want to inspire hope and share my faith," Herring said. "Jesus Christ is the one that saved me and gave me eternal life. To him I dedicate my music. I want to go anywhere God leads me and reach people who haven't been reached or who aren't accepted in society."
Herring reiterates that sentiment in the last song on his CD, pledging to God in rap style: "I will represent Christ to the end of my days."