Last year, spoken-word artist Aubrey Barnes and singer-songwriter Delores Westbrook-Tingle partnered to make a new song that summarizes what United Way of the Quad Cities is all about – “Together.”

That inspiring song – which kicked off the July 2019 unveiling of United Way’s African-American Leadership Society (AALS) and was part of the September 2019 launch of “Amplify Quad Cities: The Soundtrack” – has now been made into a five-minute video to support the nonprofit’s racial equity effort.

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

Delores Westbrook-Tingle is a singer-songwriter.

“We need to stand strong – walking together in this community,” sings Westbrook-Tingle. “Walking hand in hand, we can make a change.”

Barnes says over the gospel-flavored music: “We are one body, called to be harmony. Created with perfection in mind, whether Black, white, seeing or blind.”

The video (made by Rock Island-based dphilms) displays calls to action like “When we dream united, we build an inclusive future,” and “When we share united, we discover how strong our shoulders are.”

It also weaves in local statistics on racial disparities, such as the fact that just 43 percent of Black Q-C 3rd graders are reading proficiently, and on average Black households make $20,000 less per year than white households.

As Westbrook-Tingle nails the piercing high note at the end, the message says: “When we live united, we put opportunity in the hands of all Quad Citizens.”

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

Aubrey Barnes, left, and Delores Westbrook-Tingle wrote and performed “Together.”

United Way urges people to give, advocate and volunteer, with the slogan “Stronger Together.”

The regional nonprofit – which this summer started an online 21-Day Equity Challenge, taken by over 1,800 people — has raised over $130,000 in a $200,000 goal for the new United for Equity Fund. The fund will provide grants to social entrepreneurs, grassroots organizations and nonprofits advancing innovative efforts aimed to reduce racial disparities.

Additional information on the United for Equity grants will be available at the Thursday, Nov. 19, virtual event Courageous Conversations: Equity in Action.

United Way president/CEO Rene Gellerman said recently that “Together” was written as part of the launch of AALS (at Bettendorf’s Waterfront Convention Center), and the pair was asked to reflect the lives of local African-Americans and their aspirations. “We always knew it had a greater purpose,” she said of the song.

The video (filmed in July) was created for a strategy to raise awareness of racial inequities, and has been used in small group meetings, on social media, as well as to promote the Oct. 15 online Equity Summit that United Way held, Gellerman said.

United for Equity is an initiative to increase awareness of local racial inequities and build community and political will to address them.

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

Aubrey Barnes is a spoken-word artist and paraeducator.

“Together” was among six songs recorded for United Way’s 2019 community campaign, “Amplify Quad Cities: The Soundtrack.” It launched with a special event in September 2019 at The Rust Belt in East Moline with an unprecedented concert.

United Way partnered with River Music Experience to enlist local songwriters to create original songs that reflect transformative stories of everyday people, whose lives were changed through the support of United Way.

“What better way to tell the stories of people than through music,” Gellerman said. “Music really has a way of touching people differently than just telling a story. I think that people will better connect with the stories because of the music, and that’s what we want.”

“All that was straight from their heart,” she said of “Together,” which sings of the power of partnership and collaboration. “A year later, we looked at it, and it shows the disparities in the community, and shows when we work together, we can solve these issues.

It also is a soothing, uplifting antidote to the polarizing, divisive times we’re living in.

“I’m really proud of it. I am grateful to Aubrey and Delores, to give their time and talent like that,” Gellerman said, noting the video uses many photos of volunteer  work United Way has done locally, with partners and organizations.

“We utilize videos quite a bit, to showcase people who have benefitted from the services United Way funds,” she said. “They’re testimonial videos, to describe why United Way is different. And music is a powerful tool to get the message across.”

Advertisement

Ryan Orr, senior editor at dphilms, said the video was shot at Longview Park and at Friendship Manor (with its new Metro Arts mural) in Rock Island.

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

An image from the video “Together.”

“It helps too Aubrey and Delores are very powerful,” Orr said. “When you have good talent, put the pieces together.”

“A lot of times, from my end, I don’t always get to see the end result of my work,” he said. “The biggest thing, my hope is to give a lot of people in the Quad-Cities hope. We’re not an island; we have some of the same challenges as any other community, big or small. It’s not just unique to the East Coast or West Coast.

“It inspires hope, to take this seriously enough, to bring about more change and action,” Orr said of the video.

“The biggest challenge we had with the project, understanding the timeliness of it, it was a very fine line,” he said of pursuing social justice nationwide. “You can’t be too reactive, but you also want to be proactive. You want the community to understand this is something of significance that needs to be talked about, the hope of finding solutions and reasonable outcomes.”

Even more moving, applicable today

Though the local racial disparities in education, income and health have existed a long time, this year’s deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and Black Lives Matter protests have made “Together” even more urgent and relevant, said Brandy Donaldson, a member of the AALS steering committee who worked on the video.

“I was very moved by the lyrics of the song,” she said. “Aubrey and Delores combining their talent, came up with a phenomenal theme for the song. The lyrics were incredible, poignant,” she said. “Fast forward all these months later, it’s even more moving and applicable as we see

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

An image from the video “Together.”

current events and the condition of our society today. Making that video made a lot of sense.”

“We see statistics of being a racial divide in the Quad-Cities; there are disparities that exist in the Quad-Cities,” Donaldson said. “To highlight using the video was incredible. The lyrics of the video explain a solution to disparities — if we’re working together as one body, it can be tackled, it can be solved.”

“It was serendipitous, it all fit together, as part of launching AALS,” she said. “We need to highlight and really talk about equity in the Quad-Cities. I was just happy to be part of getting that video done. Their talent shined. I didn’t have to work very hard, when you have two very talented people, passionate about their work. I was glad we were able to take their song and highlight it in a way that brought a topic the community needs to pay attention to.”

Beyond showing numbers and discussing the problems, raising awareness through music and media is key, but that’s just the first step, Donaldson said.

“We have to encourage action,” she said. “It’s a multi-faceted approach to addressing these disparities as a community, not just as

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

United Way will hold a Nov. 19 virtual event, “Courageous Conversations: Equity in Action.”

organizations. United Way has done a great job kicking off conversations about equity, bringing in partners,  addressing these problems with equity in the Quad-Cities. This video is just a way to kind of wake up this topic, using great local talent. I happen to believe in music — when you put something to music, I pay attention.”

Despite the deep divisions now in society, exposed with Tuesday’s election, racial inequalities are not political, Donaldson said.

“There’s right and wrong, and if you have a true sense of right and wrong, when there are true disparities in your community related to race, these are issues that when given the right attention, can be solved,” she said. “They should never be politicized. Sadly, there are people who want to do that. I find that pretty sad, it’s disheartening.”

“United Way didn’t discover something new – they took data, and they highlighted it,” Donaldson said. “They didn’t create the conditions in New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Togetherour community that have existed for decades. I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on, who you voted for. You should care about your community, and every person in your community.”

Right and wrong were exposed in a racist video that went viral this week, made by four Davenport Assumption High students, reenacting the disgusting May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, at the hands of police.

The private Catholic school put out a statement that said in part: “The Assumption Family is heartbroken by recent social media activity reflecting a highly unacceptable attitude regarding the precious gift of life. We recognize the hurtful impact of the posting and the reality that social media has the power to affect all people.

“We as a school try to teach our youth to celebrate the diversity within our own community and the broader community. Understanding the lives of others is the best way to truly understand ourselves. Our words and actions affect others. Sometimes they cause pain. We realize there is more work to do.”

Facebook lit up this week in debates over the video, and proper punishment for students involved.

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

Brandy Donaldson serves on the African-American Leadership Society steering committee.

Leslie Klipsch, a Davenport mother and co-owner of coworkqc, posted Friday:

“It is NOT ENOUGH to be good people raising good kids. We must strive to be ANTI-racist people, raising ANTI-racist kids. This goes beyond being ‘good’ parents and ‘not racist’ families. This is continually working towards equality for all races. This is striving to undo racism in your mind, every single moment of every single day. This is striving to undo racism wherever you have power…and teaching your kids to do the same.”

“If you live here, you have a stake in the success of the community,” Donaldson of the AALS said, “Racial disparity is a failure in our community and it deserves to be addressed. What United Way is discovering, is that people do care. When they are able to bring community partners together to work on this goal, it is an issue people do want to address.”

No one organization can do it alone, and the song and video show that we all need to partner to tackle deep, complex problems, Donaldson said.

“The only way we’re going to be successful is together,” she said. “The lyrics encourage us all to think about this and move things forward.”

Donaldson encourages people to get ideas from the United Way website and social media, and be part of the solution in your home, work, school or church.

“We have a great opportunity to all be part of the conversation and all be part of the solution,” she said. “We’re hoping that this brings awareness to the topic, but awareness is useless if it does not lead to action and does not lead to solving the issues. I think this is a conversation that’s going to have to continue for a long time.”

Artists working together

Barnes, a poet and spoken-word artist who was raised in Rock Island and now lives in Davenport, said of working with Westbrook-Tingle (a veteran of the Westbrook Singers) on the song:

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

One of United Way’s catch phrases is “Stronger Together.”

“I think we both have the same mindset — we knew what we had to say would be powerful and thought-provoking,” he said.

“It was one of those things, after they kind of saw the piece come together, in its final form, they realized the potency of that piece, that collaborative work we did,” Barnes said. He previously worked with dphilms last year on the AALS opening event.

“I knew it would be a great powerful project, but seeing the final product altogether, it was still a surprise,” he said. “All the editing made it past what I wanted it to be. For me, it’s always my mission to be creative. I’ve been doing this six years, and I create art that provokes thought.”

He hopes the video sparks more conversation and the alerts people to the need to work on these issues.

“It’s a seed to plant…The piece in and of itself talks about that, it has the specificity of race, but it transcends that,” Barnes said. “There’s a sameness to all of us, and understanding that statement, leads you to be more willing to come out of yourself – to be able to sit in the same

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

United Way will hold a Nov. 19 virtual event, “Courageous Conversations: Equity in Action.”

spaces as people who don’t look like you.”

He works as paraeducator, at Camelot Therapeutic Day School in Moline (which serves kids with emotional and behavioral disabilities), and does writing workshops in the area. Barnes also is working on completing his bachelor’s degree in education, online from Western Governors University (which is in Salt Lake City).

Westbrook-Tingle wrote the music and most of the words for “Together” before Barnes was brought in, partnering on the lyrics. She runs a weeklong gospel music camp (held every year) and had worked previously with Barnes. Five of the kids from her camp sang backup vocals for the recording.

“It just worked out; it was just meant to be,” Westbrook-Tingle said. “My goal at the very beginning of the project was to have a multi-generational project, so that I was representing one generation, Aubrey was representing another generation and the kids from the camp were representing a third generation.”

“It’s not an overnight, quick-fix type of issue,” she said of racial equity, “It’s something that’s going to take some time and commitment. They’re continuing to move forward with it and that’s all that you can ask for, that they continue to push what their agenda is, in tackling these disparities.”

Advertisement

“It didn’t come to this groundswell – it’s always been there but it’s just exploded,” Westbrook-Tingle said. “It’s a great time, because people are open to it. They’re open to listening. There is a willingness for people to hear others’ shared experiences, and come together to develop programs and ideas that can address the issues that haven’t been addressed in a long time.”

She hopes the video will engage a broad audience.

“My hope is through this, everyone will see a role that they can play,” Westbrook-Tingle said. “This is a community problem, everybody has something to contribute, to offer, no matter how small we think it is.”

“My hope is, as they use this material, that it will open up some eyes and some hearts, whether it’s to contribute or volunteer time – whatever is needed,” she said.

She claims everything in the video looks great except the parts she is in.

Westbrook-Tingle had to cancel this summer’s music camp, to be held between RME and Scott Community College; the first one was in 2012. The last one was at Black Hawk College in 2019.

Gellerman said at the United Way event Nov. 19, they will reveal a community report, with summary and recommendations from the Equity Summit. People can get involved by volunteering, championing a cause, using their voice, and help support this effort financially, she said.

A volunteer investment panel will make recommendations on how to make grants from the Equity Fund, aligned with education, income and health, and invite the community to submit proposals for funding, Gellerman said.

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

Rene Gellerman is president/CEO of United Way Quad Cities.

“The unique thing, different than typical funding, we’ll be seeking grassroots, neighborhood organizations, and social entrepreneurs to partner on this,” she said. “We’re typically restricted to certified 501c3 organizations, and we’re intentionally broadening. We believe that the way we’re going to effect change is to get into those neighborhoods.

“It’s difficult for small organizations, working with people, changing lives every day,” she said. “We want to remove that barrier, be creative, innovative, and provide resources.”

The Covid crisis also has presented challenges in putting volunteers into local classrooms, Gellerman said.

“We are working on a solution to that, excited about releasing that later this year, with an opportunity to match people in community, to make a difference,” she said. “We’re going to be matching virtual volunteers, and we’ll announce it at the Courageous Conversations.”

You can watch the “Together” video at www.unitedwayqc.org/united-for-equity#.

You can see a video about the “Amplify” soundtrack campaign (also made by dphilms) HERE.

New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
close
New Quad-Cities United Way Music Video Urges All of Us to Work Together

Free Breaking News
Alerts & Daily Digest
In Your Inbox!

Advertisement