While the nation is burning around us, protestors taking to the streets to fight for Black lives and a coronavirus crisis still lurking, the war on Black hair also rages on.
According to NBC News, despite earning straight A’s last year, Kieana Hooper claims that the principal of Gladewater High School in Gladewater, Texas, told her on Monday that her 18-year-old daughter, Kienjanae (KJ), could not attend graduation on Friday or receive her diploma if she does not take out her long burgundy braids.
Apparently, her hair color did not fit into the school’s dress code, which states that “hair coloring shall resemble a natural color, but Hooper told HelloBeautiful that the issue with her daughter’s hair came out of nowhere.
“KJ was inducted into the honor society at the school with braids. She went to homecoming in braids, different colors, and nothing was ever said to her or me. Never once has she been called to the office or sent home. So why now, four days before graduation, is her hair all of a sudden a problem?” she asked HB over the phone.
According to Hooper, just last Friday, KJ participated in a school parade, with her hair on full display, and not one school official mentioned that her hair was breaking any school rule.
“Principal Bedair gave [KJ] a graduation yard sign and six tickets [to graduation] and told her ‘Congrats, I’ll see you on Friday,’ but then called on Monday to say her hair doesn’t have a ‘natural color’ and that if she wants to get her diploma she has to take her braids out. When I asked her why, she hung up,” Hooper said.
Shortly after, Hooper claims that Bedair called back, saying that since “we’re in a pandemic” she changed her mind. But there was a caveat: instead of KJ having to take down her braids, she now has to cover them. Hooper’s response to Bedair was “Absolutely not.”
“KJ has never hidden her hair before, and she isn’t going to hide it on the most important day of her life. She went through too much to get here,” the single mother stressed.
An attorney for the school sent Hooper’s lawyer a letter claiming Hooper misinterpreted the call, NBC reported.
“Accordingly, Principal Bedair telephoned your client and told her that the color of Kienjanae’s hair would need to be changed so it met dress code requirements,” the letter said. Adding, “Gladewater ISD does not understand how the confusion arose” and that they later decided that her hair “was close enough” to a natural color and that she’d be allowed to graduate.
Yet, Hooper is adamant that she was told if KJ didn’t cover her hair, she couldn’t walk across the stage.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Hooper wrote that despite all of the mixed messages the school is sending, which includes telling people that the situation is resolved, the school Superintendant has yet to call her and confirm whether KJ is graduating on Friday or not.
Hooper stressed to HB that getting her diploma matters for KJ, who has dreams of becoming a nurse.
“She even got a McDonald’s scholarship. I know it’s not a lot, but it’s hers, she earned it. How can she use her scholarship if she doesn’t have a diploma?” Hooper asked.
“I want her to have what she is supposed to get and worked hard for.”
Hooper, who is white, was hesitant to describe what happened to her daughter as an act of “racism” and stressed that KJ also hasn’t made this is about race. But when asked specifically did Hooper think that race played a factor—if at all—in the school’s decision to try to block KJ from graduating, she told HB, “Yes.”
“What about the white girls with pink hair they dyed from a box? Are they being asked to cover their hair or re-dye their hair back its natural color? What about the white boys? Why are they not singled out?” she asked.
Hooper also admitted that KJ has been “so hurt” by this situation.
“She asked me ‘Mama why? I thought they all loved me?'” she recalled of her daughter, who is also a star athlete at Gladewater High.
“She is such a good person, has shown the school so much school spirit. But I told her, ‘You have to take a stand, right is right and wrong is wrong and education and graduation don’t have anything to do with hair.”
In the end, Hooper told HB that she and her daughter will be at graduation with expectations for KJ to walk away with what rightfully belongs to her.
“I will be there on Friday with my daughter, and if I have to walk across that football field with her to make sure she gets her diploma, that’s what I am doing.”