LIVINGSTON, NJ — More than 1000 residents from Livingston and surrounding communities spent Sunday afternoon on the lawn in front of the West Essex YMCA, where the Y partnered with the Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI) to host the sixth annual Livingston Diversity Festival.

The event marked the end of Livingston’s Youth Appreciation Week (YAW), which celebrates the community’s youth by providing a variety of activities for one week each year. YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores, whose four young grandchildren volunteered as youth assistants at the event, said she was thrilled with the turnout and to be a part of providing an opportunity to explore all the different cultures that make up the community.

“I would like to compliment Alan Karpas, Susan Berkenbush and Cheryl Francione for all of their efforts on behalf of the youth and families in Livingston,” said Flores. “What a wonderful team—they work tirelessly to teach all that cross their paths that Livingston is a town that not only accepts diversity and inclusion, but also celebrates it. Outstanding effort, so glad the Y could host it.”

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The Diversity Festival featured dozens of international music and dance performances from Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East and the USA, accompanied by an international fashion show and more than 30 tables representing countries from around the world and food samples of many countries’ traditional cuisine.

According to Cheryl Francione, Associate Executive Director at the West Essex Y, the festival is not only an expression of the surrounding community’s diversity, but also a free event that the entire family can enjoy. With more than 1,000 people attending over the last two years, Francione said the event has become a township-wide favorite that residents look forward to each year.

“I’m so happy that the festival has become a beautiful reflection of our community’s diversity,” she said. “It’s an event where Livingston collaborates, coordinates an celebrates in unity.”  

Francione, stating that an event of this magnitude cannot happen without teamwork, also expressed her gratitude toward her YAW partners: Susan Berkenbush, co-chair of LCDI and the Diversity Festival, and Alan Karpas, chairperson of YAW and president of Healthy Community Healthy Youth (HCHY). She said working alongside them has been “a pleasure and an honor.”

"The festival proves to be a yearly success in a number of aspects,” said Billy Fine, fellow co-chair of LCDI. “Ranging from the support from the community at large to the number of attendees, the day was a wild success. The Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion is fortunate to have partnered once again with the YMCA and all of the people who made the entire Youth Appreciation Week possible."

The festival, initially scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., was held from noon until 6 p.m. on Sunday due to the number of groups that wanted to perform or become otherwise involved in the event. Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein said this fact was impressive and inspiring.

“There are so many people from so many different backgrounds, nationalities and religions who call Livingston their home, and we can either just be around each other and see each other across the street or we can get to know each other, appreciate each other and love each other,” said Klein. “We don’t want to be the salad, we want to be the soup, and it’s events like this that allow us to be the soup—to really know and to understand and love each other.”

The Livingston Committee for Diversity recently changed its name to “Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion” in order to demonstrate its commitment to celebrating differences as well as commonalities. To learn more about the LCDI or to become involved, contact Susan Berkenbush at Livingston_Diversity@verizon.net.

Sobel & Co, a full-service accounting firm in Livingston specializing in family business and not-for-profits, is the proud sponsor of the Essex County News section of TAPintoLivingston.net and TAPintoWestEssex.net. For more information, visit the Sobel & Co., LLC website.