English I Students Engage in Enhanced Discussion of Discrimination Spotlighted in A Raisin in the Sun

Students in Pete Clark’s English I class had a special guest join in to a recent classroom discussion of the classic text A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. To better understand the history of housing discrimination in Chicago, a main theme of the play, and the reverberation of those practices into present day, Chicago landlord-tenant and real estate attorney Melvin Sims joined the class via Zoom to lead an insightful discussion of the classic play and the real-world issues it spotlights. 

Mr. Sims provided vast expertise on the subjects highlighted in the play’s first act, set in post-World War II Chicago, explaining the types of housing discrimination that occurred. Federal, state and local legislation like the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 made many of those practices illegal, but the after-effects linger to this day. 

A Raisin in the Sun really features the race and national origin hindrances that were baked into our system at that time,” Mr. Sims said. 

Mr. Sims led a lively discussion and answered questions from the grade 9 students about issues facing many Chicago residents throughout the last century, including practices like redlining and lease ambiguity.
 
 “Chicago to this day is one of the most racially segregated cities in the world,” Mr. Sims told the class. “Many communities are still in the footprint of these real restrictive laws that just changed in the 1960s. It certainly has gotten better because legally you cannot engage in the kind of block-busting and steering and redlining that used to go on, but there is still a decided amount of segregation by neighborhood.”

Mr. Clark is a longtime friend of Mr. Sims, and upon the English department implementing A Raisin in the Sun into the English I curriculum this year, he reached out to Mr. Sims and invited him to share his knowledge with St. Margaret’s students. In all, Mr. Sims spoke to two of Mr. Clark’s blocks, and a recording of his discussion was shared with other English I classes. 

“We are so appreciative of Mr. Sims sharing his family experiences and professional expertise with our students,” Mr. Clark said. “His discussion was engaging, insightful, and specific, relating the historical context to individual lines of Hansberry’s play. He also conveyed the compounding and devastating effects of COVID-19 upon communities that already face inherent societal challenges.”
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