LIVINGSTON, NJ — At the halfway mark of what has been considered an extremely challenging year due to converging crises—from the COVID-19 pandemic, to the economic shutdown and now the civil and racial unrest nationwide—a group of Livingston residents have developed an event meant to spread a message of hope and unity within the community.

The township has declared July 1, 2020 as “Light Up Livingston – In Peaceful Unity,” which calls on Livingston residents and businesses to place a light in a window or on their porch at 8 p.m. to symbolize the township’s solidarity as a community. Participants are asked to use lights that are non-flammable, such as an electric candle or flashlight.

Resident Cheryl Francione, who is co-chairing the event alongside Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI) members Alyse Heilpern and Mike Ramer, was met with full support when she brought the idea to the mayor and council last week.

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“We all love this town, and we want to make sure that we’re supporting one another and that we emerge from all of this successful,” said Francione. “We have had converging crises in this country—one after another—and people have not had any time to rebound or process any of it…Livingston has not been spared from the things that are happening.

“So the point of this [event] is really important. We’re diverse in so many ways, but most essentially we are diverse in thought. We may not have converging opinions about what’s going on right now; but we can definitely agree on one thing: that we should be standing in solidarity together in our own community because the answer to our problems can’t always be the responsibility of the mayor or the police or the fire department or someone else. The responsibility lies in our hands as the citizens.”

The township subsequently issued an official proclamation supporting the event and declaring that the Township of Livingston is “a community that welcomes open dialogue,” does not condone “physical abuse, police brutality, abuse of power, violence, theft or destruction of property,” and “recognizes that the answer to the crises in our country lies within our communities.”

The three event co-chairs were recently discussing the diverse perspectives on how to take a peaceful step toward addressing societal challenges and ultimately agreed that “change begins in our own community.”

“As individuals, we do not agree on all issues and are diverse in countless ways,” said Francione, who emphasized that the event would not be possible without Heilpern and Ramer's tireless efforts. “Hope lies in our willingness to stand together in solidarity, with commitment to address crises in a progressive and thoughtful way.”

Several other residents have also stepped forward to help coordinate the event, which will also include a live virtual program. Saint Barnabas Medical Center has agreed to honor the endeavor by illuminating the hospital in white lights on July 1 as well.

During the virtual program, which is expected to stream on various platforms from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Mayor Rudy Fernandez will address the township along with representatives from Saint Barnabas Medical Center, the Livingston Board of Education, the Livingston Clergy Association (LCA) and the Livingston Police Department.

“No matter what people’s personal thoughts are about policing right now, our police department cares,” said Francione as she addressed the lineup of speakers for the event. “[Chief] Gary Marshuetz is a good man, and he cares about this town, and I think that we need to respect people in authority right now and hear them speak about how they feel about this community…

“I also think faith is really important right now no matter what your faith is—even if it’s just having faith for a brighter future.”

Pastor Dan Martian, LCA president and a member of LCDI, said he jumped at the opportunity to participate because he feels this event could be “something that [Livingston’s] faith community embraces.” He added that Livingston is a “wonderful, diverse and inclusive community,” which is something that the LCA strives to illustrate with its events by bringing together Livingston’s many houses of worship.

“We are a community that really respects and upholds the dignity of our citizens,” he said. “With all the stuff that’s going on right now, this is a way for us to say that everybody in Livingston—no matter who you are—is important, and we are lighting up Livingston in your honor.”

In the absence of an in-person 4th of July ceremony this year, Martian also suggested that the “Light Up Livingston” event would provide residents with another opportunity to “celebrate what is in our Pledge of Allegiance, which is ‘liberty and justice for all.’”

Quoting a theme brought to the table by LCA member Rabbi Simeon Cohen of Temple Beth Shalom, Martian urged residents to “Lead With Love, Act in Hope.”

“None of us was prepared for a global pandemic or the civil unrest that we are currently experiencing in our country,” said Martian. “However, we can be better prepared going forward, and can learn from one another. This initial event will hopefully open the door to many future virtual convenings and group conversations.”

Francione further explained that the concept of “lighting up Livingston in peaceful unity” is to prove that “everyone can do something”—even if it is something as simple as “putting a light in your window or on your porch to send a message that says, ‘I stand with you as a resident of this community.’” 

Also during Wednesday’s event, a handful of residents will share stories about the current crises. One such speaker is Deanna Adams, who will describe her husband’s experience of being hospitalized with COVID-19.

Performances from several entertainers, including various vocalists and musicians from Livingston High School and a special guest appearance from singer-songwriter Carl Brister, will highlight the event as well.

Brister, a West Orange resident known for his uplifting songs about love and unity, will sing his latest original single, which can be heard HERE.

“I'm excited that Carl will be joining us because his work, and his music align perfectly with the important messaging of this event,” said Francione. “It's symbolic of how neighboring communities are going to need to reach out to each other and support one another during these challenging times.”

For updates on the live virtual program, CLICK HERE to visit the event page on Facebook.

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