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Are Black Students Being Targeted Because Of Their Hair?

By Shaun King

Jaylon Sewell is a good kid
Jaylon Sewell is a good kid. Just 16 years old, he’s an active leader in his local church, a good student, and manager for the football team at Neville High School in Monroe, Louisiana. Suddenly, he’s found himself in a deeply unfamiliar place after deciding to live a little and dye the top of his hair blonde in an homage to Odell Beckham Jr – the standout wide receiver for the New York Giants.

According to a formal complaint filed by his family with the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, Jaylon and over 20 other Black students at Neville High School, have been repeatedly targeted and harassed by school administrators for their hairstyles – including the Beckham style, other colored styles, braids, dreads, and even for hair deemed “ too nappy” by administrators.

This is not an anomaly. All over the country, young Black boys and girls are being told to change their hair or face suspension.

Heaven Wiggins, an honors student in AP courses at Lithia Springs High School outside of Atlanta, was placed in in-school suspension because of the color of her hair – a deep burgundy color that my own wife has in her hair right now. It’s a conservative style done by Black girls and women across the country.

A high school in Louisville, Kentucky banned virtually all natural black hairstyles and began threatening to suspend Black students with dreads, braids, and twists – which made up a significant percentage of the styles young black girls had at the school. All four of my daughters currently have the very styles that were being targeted at this school.


So, as you could imagine, it infuriated Jaylon’s mother, Bonnie Kirk, when she looked at her phone after a long day at work and saw that she missed a slew of calls from her son. It was not like him to call during the school day and she was immediately alarmed. From the beginning of the school day, through lunch, until the end of the day, he had called but been unable to reach her.

During morning announcements, Jaylon was pulled from class alongside twenty of his classmates, each of them Black, and told that they would not be able to attend class until they either cut their hair or dyed it back to its natural color.

For Jaylon and others, it was like an outer body experience. The hairstyles that they had were seen as normal, hardly radical, in their own community. Even the style recently popularized by Beckham has been around for decades, but the Dean of Students, according to Jaylon, told them they “looked like thugs” and asked them if they were in gangs.

Students, that were not able to reach their parents were not allowed to go home, but could not attend class, and were even denied lunch. They weren’t even allowed to go to a private room, but were forced to sit in the public commons area outside of the school offices for the entire day.

When Jaylon’s mother and other family members came to the school the next day, they were told again by the school staff that Jaylon would not be able to attend any classes until he cut his hair off or dyed it back to its natural color.


Determined that her son would not miss a second day of classes, his mother sent him on to class anyway – only for her to receive new phone calls that he was being pulled out of his classes, yet again, because of his hairstyle. Demanding an explanation, Jaylon’s mother was told by the Dean of Students that his hair color was causing a disruption in school.

Under pressure from Jaylon’s mother, the superintendent finally instructed the school to allow him to attend classes. However, both Jaylon and his mother have said that this entire school year has been Hell on earth, with constant harassment from the Dean of Students even after Jaylon was allowed to return.

This entire ordeal is absolutely ridiculous. I’ve said it before in other cases, but what is being targeted here is Black culture itself. This is akin to Native Americans being told to cut their hair and change their names to look and sound more like Europeans. Jaylon Sewell was not a disruption to the educational process of his school. These children, and their families, have enough to worry about without having to fight for the very right for their children to attend class or have lunch.

Photo Credit: PR Photos

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