Once an encampment for Union troops during the Civil War, 12-acre Meridian Hill Park is now a central gathering space for friends and fitness enthusiasts. Running groups, yoga classes, and personal training sessions all meet at this urban hilltop park, no matter the season. Stroll around the perimeter to admire the 13-basin, Italian-style cascading fountain—the longest in North America—as well as statues commemorating figures such as Joan of Arc. In fair weather, join the hundreds who flock here over the weekends for picnics, impromptu sporting matches, and dog walking (and watching), as well as the Sunday drum circle whose rhythms have been sounding into the night since the 1950s.

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United We Drum

For years I lived across the street from Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park. On warm days, I would open up the windows to let the fresh air in, and I’d hear the sound of drumbeats coming from the park. I used to do my household chores to the sound of those drums. I’ve since moved away, but every now and again, I still find myself drawn to the park to watch the drummers perform in a tradition that has come to be known as the Drum Circle. The Drum Circle goes back more than 40 years. Every Sunday afternoon, weather permitting, starting around 3pm, men and women of all ages and ethnicities gather for an hours-long impromptu jam session. Anyone can participate—just bring your percussion instrument of choice and join in. The session starts with a drummer or two setting the beat, and one by one, the others chime in to keep the rhythm going. On occasion, a saxophonist or trumpeter will provide the melody but usually, it’s just the beat that pulses through the air. You’ll find the curious people like me standing a few feet away so we can watch the drummers thumping away. Just to the side of the drummers, there will always be people moving to the pulsing beat—some just thumping their feet, others dancing and expressing all the feeling in their souls. As the hours go by, the drummers come and go, but the beat goes on until nightfall and then all goes quiet….until next Sunday. Metro Stop: Columbia Heights (Green/Yellow Lines)

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