Unified Voices-Songs for Social Justice

On Sunday, January 13th, we really enjoyed attending a concert titled Unified Voices-Songs for Social Justice at the Forest Hill Church on Monticello Blvd. in Cleveland Heights, which raised funds on behalf of HOLA Ohio through accepted donations of any amount from the concert-goers.  It was only fitting that this concert take place at this locale because “Friends of HOLA” often meets at the Forest Hill Church, which also provided sanctuary to Ms. Leonore Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

On this day, co-pastors Reverend Dr. Veronica Goines and Reverend Dr. John C. Lentz introduced the concert. They talked about how protest songs were not an outgrowth of the 1960’s but have been with us for centuries (in fact going back to Biblical times) and were often spiritually based.

An excellent example of this was the Famine Song (music by VIDA and arranged by Matthew Culloton), which Forest Hill Chancel Choir, under the direction of Ms. Anne Wilson, s. As notes in the song sheet read, “inspired by the stories of the Sudanese basket weavers, this song expresses the pain and hope experienced by those in the famine of the 1980’s. in the midst of hardship, a wonderful new sense of creativity emerged when women began weaving baskets as a means of survival.”

Mr. Scott Wachter fulfilled the role of emcee and told us that he accepted this role because he believed in using music as a way to help social movements. Again, in this case, it was to further the work of HOLA Ohio. As its mission statement reads, it is “a grassroots Latino organization based in NE Ohio focusing on community organizing, leadership development, and civic engagement.”

Quite a few local artists were eager to share their talents with with us, and these included:

  • Ms. Tamar Gray; accompanied by her husband, Willie; who sang What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye and slipped into it some improvised lyrics, like “the wall is not the answer.” They also lead us in a chorus of the classic We Shall Overcome by Pete Seeger.
  • Mr. Luke Case who played and sang the Year of Jubilo by Henry C. Work  on a guitar that he built himself.
  • Mr. Warren Bendler who offered a seldom heard Bob Dylan song titled Blind Willie McTell.
  • Mr. Chris Gillespie, Mr. Mike Gillespie, and Mr. Dave Bozak formed a group called The Feedbacks and gave us a rendition of Stephen Stills’ For What It Is Worth and Neil Young’s Ohio, which was inspired by the Kent State shootings.

Our personal favorites were Mr. Charlie Mosbrook and Mr. Michael McDonald who represented an organization called Folknet which, as its literature indicates, exists “to nurture the development and expansion of a vibrant folk and traditional arts community of performers, organizations, and advocates throughout Northeast Ohio.” Along with HOLA Ohio and the Forest Hil Church, Folknet was an important contributor to the organization of this concert.

The spirited duo performed Woody Guthrie’s Pastures of Plenty, is a hymn to migratory workers, as well as Guthrie’s Make Me a Pallet Down on Your Floor and, of course This Land is Your Land. There are some lyrics that are frequently left out of this song that, we feel, speak to the question of a border wall:

As I went walking I saw a sign there,
And on that sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

The group closed with a song by Mr. Mosbrook titled An Abandoned Big Box Store. He was motivated to write this song after reading about how migrant families were separated and some people were placed in an old WalMart.

Miss Ashley Fulton was the last artist to perform. She is a student at the prestigious Hawken School; although she is only 17 years old, she is a prodigious talent. If anyone was nodding off at

 that time (we doubt it), Miss Fulton certainly woke them up with her renditions of A Natural Woman, dedicated to Carole King and Aretha Franklin, and Price Tag by Jessie J., which Ms. Fulton believes speaks to the connectivity of people.

Certainly,  Ms. Veronica Dahlberg, HOLA Ohio’s Founder and Executive Director, and Ms. Kelsey, its Program Manager, were with us at the Forest Hills Church for the concert. In between performances, Ms. Dahlberg addressed us and said HOLA Ohio would continue to keep doing its utmost to aid people who are living in fear of the zero-tolerance policies regarding deportation. In addition to noting that music has proven to be very effective in terms of breaking down barriers, Ms. Dahlberg said that she was very heartened by the large turnout for this concert which was very much needed because, in addition to raising money for HOLA Ohio, it was important that concerned people come together to be re-energized in order that they may continue to work on behalf of social justice.