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At the foot of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, two microphones were set up. A group of students congregated around a small table, serving themselves hot chocolate, while clusters of families and students began to arrive.  

For the past 16 years, the Michigan Community Scholars Program has honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the namesake holiday with their Circle of Unity celebration. The event returned in person this year, following last year’s virtual installment. 

The program began with a performance from Michigan natives Joe Reilly and Julie Beutel, who sang a series of songs, including Reilly’s own song entitled ‘The Circle.’ Attendees formed a large circle and were encouraged to participate in a sing-along to tunes inspiring action and uplifting marginalized groups.   

William Alt, MCSP Community Engagement Coordinator said the event was very much student-led. 

Many of the performances featured students, including a rendition of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran’s “Everything Has Changed,” which was performed by Blue Records, a recording group at the University of Michigan. 

LSA sophomore Sarah Oguntomilade followed this performance with a reading of her poem,
“Enemies to Lovers,” which explores the dual-edged nature of history and how the reprehensible actions of the past inform the present day. 

“Terribly horrible events have created terribly beautiful realities, and because of that, nothing is black and white, everything is in the grey,” Oguntomilade said. “Through this lense, I share the story of my life and how I’ve gotten to this point, all while using the metaphor of enemies to lovers, my favorite literary genre.” 

Oguntomilade also read another original poem called “My Name Is,” which Oguntomilade said highlights her own life journey with faith and how faith connects with Dr. King’s advocacy.

“‘My Name Is’ also describes my life and my story, however this time through the lense of faith,” Ogutomilade said. “I recognize that the faith that brought great pain in the past is the same faith that drove Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his activism and his peace movements.”

LSA sophomore Leilani Fonseca then spoke briefly about the impact she has been able to create as a peer mentor through MCSP. 

“It is through communities like (MCSP) that I feel like my dreams will soon be a reality,” Fonseca said. “The idea that I will one day be able to give back and support my community in the way they have supported (me) will always bring warmth to my heart.” 

As the event came to a close, Reilly and Beutel performed more songs. Papers with QR codes were handed out, directing attendees to information about the Freedom to Vote Act and providing phone numbers to the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as a template for those interested in writing letters to members of Congress about the Freedom to Vote Act.   

Alt also said the focus of the event was to acknowledge Dr. King’s life as well as a way for the community to come together.

“We always try to stress here in MCSP that you have a place here,” Alt said. “Dr. King’s message of the Beloved Community, this idea that everybody has a right to participate, that everybody has a right and a place to belong in this community.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Madison Kraft can be reached at