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The drums beat with a melody that played like a ray of hope in a solemn place–a snippet of unity in a city of gentrification and dispersal. Despite the history of DC, the drum circle in Malcolm X Park has been a timeless tradition on Sundays where the community can come together and keep alive a culture that society has subtly attempted to subdue and push to the fringes. Despite the growing homelessness and the accelerating gentrification, Sunday represented a time for the celebration of a culture and a city that upholds the value of togetherness–a city that would stand together despite their differences.

“Everyone here is like my family, even though we’re not all related.”

Those words have been ringing in my ears for the last few days. The dancer at the park was quick to encompass everyone in the circle–indeed, everyone in the park–as part of her family. The drum circle consisted of a diverse set of people who shared nothing except the tune of the drums and the beating of their hearts. In that statement was a reflection of what we’ve been striving for in our DukeEngage program. Our group is 15 students with different beliefs and backgrounds. Yet, over the course of the past 4 weeks, I’ve come to see them as more than just a hodgepodge of kids thrown together. I think of them as a second family. One that can laugh together in the good times, cry together in the hard times, and just talk to each other in between.

But the biggest lesson I’ve recently learned from the drum circle is how to sustain that sense of community I’ve found even through disagreement. We’ve had our fair share of disputes and with programming beginning to span more days of the week, it’s sure to get a little rougher from here. But just like the people of DC have exemplified, moments of togetherness can always outshine the rifts that we love to create between ourselves. Togetherness can mend broken relationships and clarify why we’re all here. Togetherness can build bridges and tear down barriers.

Ultimately, I hope to go into the second half of my DukeEngage program with a clearer sense of the bigger picture and with the distant sound of the drum circle reminding me of what matters most–building a community that overcomes its differences.