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Music is something from the beginning of time, it tells stories.

Mariel Johnson
Orange Preparatory Academy Concert
Choir Director

Remembering Rosa:

A Concert of Collective Voices

December 5, 2019

Orange, NJ

Collective voices in remembrance can spark a collective reimagining. Over the past few years, the University of Orange’s Music City program collaborated with multiple local choral groups, residents of all ages–speaking an array of languages–to envision Remembering Rosa, a concert series of collective voices—and a standout 400 Years of Inequality observance. 

By connecting community organizations, this free annual concert addresses past and present race inequities, unites school and church choirs, civic leaders, neighbors, and residents, celebrates the world-changing power of community and music, and recognizes leaders like Rosa Parks, an activist who knew what she was for with unbreakable conviction.

“Remembering Rosa is about histories of solidarity, honoring the legacy of organizers and liberation fighters, and recognizing how we're standing on their shoulders.

Douglas Farrand
co-director, Music City Program

“Ain't Gonna Let Nobody” Performed by members from Ebenezer Baptist Church Combined Choir & Orange Preparatory Academy Concert Choir

In 2015, the year prior to the inaugural Remembering Rosa event, Orange, NJ was marked by gun violence and subsequent community discussions surrounding public safety. At the same time, University of Orange’s Music City program dedicated themselves to organizing an event that brings together the city’s musical talent as a way to acknowledge the city’s pain. They chose to create space not just for healing—but for hope. December 1st would be the date, a day to look forward and commemorate the 61st anniversary of Ms. Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience.

The breakthrough action Ms. Rosa Parks took on that fateful day, December 1, 1955, refusing to sit in the segregated Negro section in the back of the bus, was planned and strategic, prepared through years of community organizing. Parks took courses in civil disobedience, including a workshop from July 24 through August 6, 1955, at the Highlander Folk School, a progressive popular education center in Tennessee. Though one person, Ms. Parks was bolstered by years of community engagement, and a coalition of folks that were geographically, politically, and morally connected. She was an organized, critically thinking force, who set off a revolutionary bus boycott. With this in mind, it was fitting that Remembering Rosa, a concert in her honor, would take place in the beautiful, balconied auditorium of Rosa Parks Community School in the heart of Orange, NJ.

“On December 1st, 2016 in Orange, NJ, I witnessed something magical.

Aubrey Murdock
artist and educator

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As the first annual concert in 2016 opened, Rachel Bland, event co-host, reminded the audience of how Ms. Parks’ story was not as simple as what they might have learned in American classrooms. She was part of a dense, complex and organized network. Accordingly, the scope of impressive talent featured at Remembering Rosa: a Concert for Peace reflected a broad, multi-talented network. Six to eight year-olds sang “Don’t Hold Me Back, Lift Me Up to the Sky,” a song  they’d written with their teacher. The Ebenezer Baptist Church choir floored the audience with a wall of joyous sound, and Dr. Margaux Simmons performed a song she’d composed with her Lakota family in mind. Students spontaneously joined in with American Sign Language, as an adult choir sang “I Need You to Survive.” And relief was found when the gospel choir reminded us that “The sun’s gonna shine, if I hold out.” A true blending of voices.

From 2016 on, the Remembering Rosa team programmed events that spoke to the past and addressed the present, seeking to meet the unique community needs of Orange for the year, and evoking the bold and organized activism of Ms. Rosa Parks.

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“A multigenerational crowd spoke three languages–from English to Spanish to Haitian Creole. The crowd was big, and the crowd was engaged.

Bob Fullilove
public health researcher and Civil Rights activist

Fast-forward to December 5th, 2019, a landmark Remembering Rosa celebration organized by the University of Orange’s Music City team. Like past years, voices were integrated in an inspirational way. The 400 Years of Inequality statement of observance was read in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, a representation of Orange’s diverse local community. Mayor Dwayne Warren made remarks along with reflections from local teachers, school administrators, and religious leaders. Musical artist, Queen Mother Imakhu, led the audience in a libation ceremony for all of our ancestors, and students spoke about their work engaging with civic responsibility—all inspiring the audience that day, and establishing the time and space as sacred.

“Ukuthula” Performed by Orange Preparatory Academy Concert Choir under the leadership of Mariel Johnson

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“This was a visceral, lively embodiment of 10 years of local organizing and community building.

Bob Fullilove
public health researcher and Civil Rights activist

In 2020, the existing connections of Music City organizers were relied upon heavily in the early months of the pandemic. Information about rent, food, and health resources were shared from person to person and aggregated in a central location on the Healthy Orange Coalition website. The Music City team connected Ebenezer Baptist Church with folks from Oakwood Avenue Community School’s Sonic Explorations after school program–all longtime Remembering Rosa collaborators–for clothing distribution mutual aid. 


The pandemic, though a collective trauma, mobilized the community, and helped the UofO network further realize their vision sparked by Rosa Parks. They shared locally what they knew about collective recovery. Remembering Rosa was hosted online in 2020.


“It got better every year, and part of that was our planning, then seeing it come to fruition.

Winston Nelson Sr.,
minister of music, Ebenezer Baptist Church

Threads from the Remembering Rosa Concert observance reverberate throughout UofO’s Music City work today: connections to local business, ideas of revolving hosts and shared hospitality, partnerships with local restaurants, and music as a universal connector. These shared values draw from and help spread music to every corner of the city of Orange, fostering a robust community network mobilized in the name of healing. Ultimately, Remembering Rosa: a Concert for Peace celebrated the innate power in everyone to be a force for positive change in their community.

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