LIVINGSTON, NJ — The Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI) is teaming up with the West Essex YMCA, the Livingston Youth Appreciation Celebration Committee (YACC) and West Orange resident Carl Brister of Agape Music Works, LLC to host a collaborative new event called the Love+Unity Diversity Festival, which will include contemporary themes of unity and harmony with the goal of promoting inclusivity within Livingston and neighboring communities.

LCDI chair Susan Berkenbush and YACC chair Alan Karpas attended Monday’s council meeting to propose this community event to the mayor and council, who agreed to host the event alongside these committees on Sunday, Sept. 29 from noon to 6 p.m. on the YMCA grounds.

The event program will include a combination of cultural and musical performances from various groups and artists, including Brister, an R&B/Pop recording artist who annually brings artists of diverse musical genres together through the Love+Unity Fest event to inspire unity in the community of West Orange through music.

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“With the current political climate in our nation, there is still an increased need to send the message of love, unity and diversity for all,” said Brister. “Because Livingston, like West Orange, is so diverse and we also neighbor each other, working together seemed to be a perfect match. I appreciate Livingston's commitment and gracious support as we work together to inspire love, unity and diversity in the community.”

Brister became involved after he saw the annual Livingston Diversity Festival at the YMCA first hand last year as one the performing artists. He said it was “an enlightening experience to see the multitude of cultures represented and how it benefited not only those in attendance, but the entire Livingston community because it brought awareness to the different cultures represented within its residents.” 

“It was so well done and just matched everything that I believe in and have brought to West Orange myself with the Love+Unity Fest,” he said. “The LCDI's commitment to creating a warm welcoming environment for all is in line with my vision.”

The Love+Unity Fest in West Orange was created in response to acts of violence and brutality toward marginalized people throughout the country. The event featured food trucks from a variety of cultures as well as bouncy houses and other activities for kids and giveaways from local businesses.

“Three years ago, our nation became a hotbed of racial issues and insensitivity,” said Brister. “I wanted to do something to inspire unity and help ensure West Orange remains a warm welcoming community. I've always felt music was a unifier that could bring people of all cultures together. So I assembled musical artists of all backgrounds and genres from pop, rock, jazz, hip-hop, gospel and more in hopes of inspiring love and unity by valuing one another. There was something for everyone.”

According to Berkenbush, the goal of Brister's event aligned with those of the Livingston Diversity Festival, which for the past six years has been an integral part of Livingston’s annual Youth Appreciation Week and has grown from an event attended by fewer than 100 people in its first year to nearly 1,000 attendees in 2017. The spirit of both events has been to showcase and celebrate the diverse cultures of the area’s residents.

Although the diversity festival is typically held during Youth Appreciation Week in May, the committee agreed that staging an event of this magnitude as part of that week has become “too challenging to effectively manage” due to the event’s tremendous growth in popularity. However, because the community response to this event has historically been so positive, the committee has proposed to continue hosting the annual event during a new time frame.

In addition to providing a maximum of $5,000 in funding for the rental of a stage, sound system and portable toilet units for the event day as it has in past years, the township also agreed to help provide tables and chairs for use at the festival.

Although community policing has not historically been necessary for the diversity festival, the LCDI and YACC members told the council that they would obtain quotes for auxiliary police support in anticipation of larger crowds.

Area residents of various cultural backgrounds are invited and encouraged to take part in the festival. As this is intended to be a family event, no graphic language or dance will be allowed.

To learn more about participating in this event, contact the LCDI at Livingston_Diversity@verizon.net

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