Boston Lawyer Teams Up with Berklee Musicians on a Tribute to Refugees

Tori Donahue
June 19, 2018

A Boston-based immigration lawyer turned to the Berklee community for assistance with a song about the plight of refugees today. 

Berklee students perform "Beyond The Borders"

Shortly after the Trump administration instituted its first travel ban in January of 2017, Susan Cohen, a prominent, Boston-based immigration lawyer, wrote a song to convey her perspective on the realities of the Syrian refugee crisis. Cohen, who has worked with refugees throughout her career, felt drawn to express the difficulties facing refugees in song form while also spending her nights at Logan Airport, providing legal assistance to travelers impacted by the ban.

Mark Simos, a songwriting professor who leads Berklee’s Songs for Social Change [login required] initiative, connected with Cohen and presented her with the opportunity to record her song “Beyond The Borders” with Berklee students, faculty, and alumni. With the assistance of songwriting faculty Simos and Daniel Cantor, as well as recent alumna Aliya Cycon B.M. '16, Cohen’s song went through lyrical, melodic, and instrumental revisions to become an anthem in support of refugees. While reflecting on the process of working with the group of musicians from Berklee, Cantor says, “As Berklee professors, when we can engage our beautifully trained expressive student musicians with songs and artists of great purpose, students not only musically lift the message…they are also swept up in larger noble ideas and inspired to change the world with their music.”

The music video documents the studio performances of these young artists, bringing Cohen’s vision of a song that can awaken empathy and change the conversation—a need that has grown ever more critical in the long months since the song’s inception—to life. Simos says, “This project shows what the Berklee artistic community can bring to support music in the service of social conscience and social change.” At the end of the video, Cohen provides context on the Syrian Civil War; she also encourages viewers to make a donation to an organization that aids refugees and advocates for refugee resettlement on its YouTube page.

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