How Hip-Hop Helped Me Get Into the Ivy League

Jul 18, 2018 12:00:00 AM


Although I grew up with a lot of familial and school support—and too often that is soul-crushingly rare—another, much more plentiful resource also played a part in my admission to Yale University and Harvard Law School: hip-hop. Professors Rakim, Tupac and Jay-Z, among many other rappers, significantly furthered my interest in writing and inspired me to share my love of writing with others. For example, I still remember listening to a Washington, D.C.-area radio station one night as a teenager and hearing a contestant in a rap battle say something like, “I’m eating rappers alive / that’s why every rapper’s inside of me.” I have never heard that line uttered since that day, and I cannot even recall the rapper’s name, but that anonymous artist’s imagery is still stuck on my mind like graffiti because he skillfully painted pictures with his words. With respect to well-established rappers, I was especially mesmerized by Rakim’s musicality by just reading his lyrics. I was fascinated by bars that expressed a passion for writing such as “I start to think and then I sink / into the paper like I was ink. / When I’m writing, I’m trapped in between the lines. / I escape when I finish the rhyme.” Overall, the high skill level apparent in rappers’ lyrics greatly influenced various forms of my own writing. Their lyrical abilities made me want to dig deeper within myself for more memorable metaphors that could alter the fates of my English essays as well as my college application essays.

At Yale, I Used Performance Poetry to Open Doors For Young People of Color

In addition, the beauty and power of hip-hop inspired my love of poetry, which would eventually lead me to co-found a performance poetry group at Yale. Our group of mostly minority students wanted to encourage young people to voice their opinions and inhabit spaces that might initially seem unwelcoming. To that end, I helped organize performances both on campus and at K-12 schools. I performed at multicultural open houses on campus and admitted student events because I wanted to help prospective minority students better visualize themselves on campus. I wanted them to see and hear themselves on stage so that they would feel more comfortable deciding to spend four years on a predominantly White campus. With respect to our group’s performances at local K-12 schools, I also wanted to make Yale, and college in general, seem more relatable to the mostly Black and Latino students who may have lived near Yale but never thought that they could go there for college. When I eventually wrote my law school application essays, I also discussed my experiences in the poetry group. My strong passion for hip-hop shaped both the style and substance of the writings that helped make my dreams of higher education a reality.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Victor A. Kwansa

Victor A. Kwansa is an attorney, education advocate, poet and essayist from Prince George’s County, Maryland. He received a B.A. in political science from Yale University in 2008, and he graduated from Harvard Law School in 2011. His essays have been featured in The Huffington Post, Blavity, and a Yale booklet for incoming freshmen. His poetry has been featured in Essence magazine, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art and Action, and Yale’s student publication, Sphere. In 2010, he was featured in The Root’s gallery of up-and-coming artists and entrepreneurs. He has spoken and/or performed at universities, K-12 schools, and community centers. Victor’s website features his poetry and essays about social justice and Black historical figures.

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