More than 100 people gathered in the freezing rain Monday afternoon on the Diag for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium's 11th annual Circle of Unity, an event intended to celebrate Dr. King's dedicated to racial justice, nonviolence, and unity.
The Circle of Unity consisted of several performances, from a dance circle led by Detroit native Julie Beutel and Joe Reilly, a University of Michigan alum, to renditions of "Lean on Me" and "We Shall Overcome" led by the Smile Bringer Singers, a University club, all designed to get the audience to participate.
Event organizer Amani Echols, an LSA sophomore, was encouraged by the number of people that attended the event despite the rain.
"On a smaller level, within our learning community, we sometimes don't always have the best turnout to all of our events, and I really think this shows that people really are interested," she said. “So I just hope this on a small scale will trickle down into bigger things, people just going out of their way to help out unexpectedly."
Reilly, has performed at the Circle of Unity for the past five years, agrees that the event has grown over the years. Referring to the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, Reilly noted that this Circle of Unity felt different from past ones.
"The circle has gotten bigger,” he said. “And I think this year it's in a new context with the political changes happening in this country. It takes on a new meaning, a deeper sense of urgency and importance that we recognize and celebrate diversity, that we are inclusive and that we support one another."
Echols also lauded the ability of the event to forge connections between different University organizations and within groups such as the Michigan Community Scholars Program.
"A lot of times the people we reach out to have connections within our program, so it's always been a way for us to come together through our different organizations," she said. "And I know David Schoem, the director of our learning community, is really big on unifying events and inclusion, so it seems a little cheesy, but the whole in-a-circle-holding-hands-dancing is something he really likes."
She added despite the novelty of the event, she still preferred it to a lecture or another event that did not include audience involvement.
"There are so many events, but I like this one especially with the theme this year being sounds of change, and all of our performances are music and dance," she said. "It's different because we're in a circle, moving around, and most of the other events are in an auditorium listening to a speaker."
Engineering sophomore Audrey Henry attended the performance and agreed the unique format of the event fit well with Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.
"I think that Martin Luther King Day is about people realizing that we're all one unified group of Americans, and of just people in the world,” she said. “So all coming together in one circle kind of represents what Martin Luther King stood for."