Winning Essay by Samantha H. From North Carolina Attending Duke
At the age of four, Lorraine Hansberry sat in her living room with her family as a brick shattered their window, narrowly missing her head. Such attacks were not uncommon; a black family in an all-white neighborhood attracted much hatred from bigoted residents. Lorraine left that incident unscathed but not unaffected. She drew upon this experience for artistic expression. Throughout her life, Lorraine Hansberry was able to transform acts of discrimination into masterpieces. 21 years later, A Raisin in the Sun, a play on based her family’s integration into a white neighborhood, graced the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Her portrayals of black life were unprecedented and opened the eyes of America to different life experiences. Just as that brick shattered the window in her family’s home, Hansberry’s plays broke through a glass ceiling within the drama industry. A Raisin in the Sun was the first Broadway play written by an African American woman. Hansberry’s sense of self and her dedication to bringing a voice to the voiceless have inspired many people across generations, including me. 
Hansberry’s ability to transform the pain of prejudice into widely accessible art fascinates me. She grew up in neighborhoods where people openly ostracized and attacked her family. Yet, she refused to give in to hatred. Every instance of injustice left Ms. Hansberry with a fragment of the harsh reality that marginalized groups had to endure on a daily basis. Each piece made a lasting impression. With every slur, aggressive assailant, and act of intimidation, Hansberry rearranged the pieces of her life, which seemed so dismal, and placed them all into a mental mosaic. Later in life, these memories came together to form the foundation for her famed literary works.
My favorite Hansberry piece, A Raisin in the Sun, portrays the depth and versatility of the African American experience. It resonated with me in high school as it deconstructed injustice, bigotry and assimilationist ideology. The play itself is centered on the importance of pursuing one’s ambitions while being realistic about the world in which they live. Moreover, the play shows the importance of community. This message is crucial. As a student at Duke, I have had the opportunity to pursue many of dreams. I have had support on and off campus that enable me to succeed as an African American student. At the same time, I have had to depend on my community when acts of prejudice affect my classmates and me. Hansberry’s words bring me comfort in those difficult moments, and I remember that I can turn my experiences into something constructive. I can help people understand how crucial it is that they engage in their communities. Overall, Hansberry’s work inspires me to explore what I have in common with other people so that the human experience and the pursuit of justice become more and more universal. 

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