If You Want to Get Something Done, You Have to Engage with your Community

Barrington Coleman

Professor, Vocal Jazz Studies

Barrington Coleman

Addressing a Societal Problem to Contribute to the Public Good

Growing up in Chicago, Coleman witnessed his family and neighbors engage in the community. Every Saturday morning Coleman attended community meetings for Operation PUSH, People United to Serve Humanity, which was founded by civil rights leader and University of Illinois distinguished alumnus, the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. From an early age, he realized that change starts within communities. When he attended college and became a musician, he continued to engage in the community, using his musical talents and also tutoring youth. As a professor, he continues to reflect his commitment to public engagement by creating and offering events to the larger community in partnership with community members, university members and guests. His most recent venture is the concert series entitled New Awakenings Concert Series, which he initiated during the pandemic. He has enlisted internal and external individuals to assist with the series, which will launch its third installment in the fall of 2023.

Mutually Beneficial Exchange of Knowledge and Resources

Coleman reports there is a mutual and reciprocal benefit with his partnerships with the community. He engages with local and state choral directors, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, his colleagues in Fine and Applied Arts and across campus. Through these collaborations, he values the immersion of different perspectives. Their collective ideas enable one another to meet the needs of the community and, individually, demonstrate personal growth. As a result, he and his partners develop new ways of creating and fulfilling ideas.

Collaboration with Communities or Organizations

Coleman has several partnerships with communities and organizations. During his 20 years at Illinois, he has built strong and sustained relationships with choral directors. Because of his longevity in the community and his reputation for public engagement, he is now working with the second generation of choral directors.


The New Awakenings Concert Series was inspired by hearing from students who wanted to make a difference in light of the pandemic. Coleman responded to this need by developing the first installment of New Awakenings with the “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.” For this concert piece, Coleman worked with several campus groups (e.g., the Black Chorus, Men’s Glee Club) as well as community groups and volunteers. For the second series, he used jazz to focus on next steps. He also engaged with community organizations including arts organizations and organizations that focused on marginalized populations such as LGBTQ+ organizations. Now, he is working on his third installment of the series scheduled for November 2023. This installment will reflect the lesser-known works of Duke Ellington, including a ballet and concert suites. As a result of this project, Coleman has heard from several community members about its impact. Individuals have said that the community changed because of the concert series allowing for new ways to address issues in our community and new ideas to permeate local schools.



Coleman has expertise in all of the traditional outputs in his field including developing and conducting performances and ensembles. He has also met the needs of undergraduate and graduate students regardless of the instrument they play or their preferred musical genre.


For each of his traditional outputs, Coleman partners with community members. This distinguishes his research as he looks beyond the university for partnerships. For example, he started the Singing Men of GNN, which brings together diverse community members—plumbers, carpenters, nurses—who are interested in serving those in need through their musical talents. Coleman became the first musical director for the group. Initially, the group had 10 men. Now, the group ranges from 100 to 150 members. Coleman ensures that everyone has a voice and seat at the table.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Dr. Coleman’s publicly engaged research, visit the links below.