Police Escort Black Merit Scholar Out of Graduation After Refusing to Remove Kente Cloth

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Courtesy of Nyree Holmes
Courtesy of Nyree Holmes

An 18-year-old Black student was removed from graduation after he refused to take off his kente cloth. Nyree Holmes attended the diverse but predominately white Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove, California. In a story he shared on Twitter May 24, the merit scholar says he was able to walk across the stage, but police officers greeted him at the other end.

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Holmes shared the story after he was escorted out from Sleep Train Arena by three Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department officers. He tells Atlanta Black Star it was important for him to wear the traditional African print because as a “descendant of slaves, I have no firm connection to my roots in Africa.”

“I wanted to wear my kente cloth as a representation of my pride in my ancestors, to display my cultural and religious heritage,” he continues. “As my particular cloth was made by Christians in Ghana, where the kente cloth has been worn by royalty and during important ceremonies for hundreds if not thousands of years.”

The graduate says his parents were shocked the school had police remove him from the ceremony, adding he was greeted with a mix of positive and negative reactions on Twitter.

“I have received a lot of support and outrage from fellow minorities as well as white people, who see the infringement upon my freedom of expression as appalling and shocking,” he tells ABS. “I have also heard of some rumblings within the school of objection as to how I responded on Twitter, especially my tweet that reached over ten-thousand people, explicitly stating “f—- Cosumnes Oaks High School.”

He later deleted the tweet.

As far as future plans, Holmes will attend California State University, Fullerton this fall. He will major in cinema arts “to achieve my dream of becoming an impactful film director.”

If other students are in a similar situation this graduation season, the future filmmaker advises them to stand up for their beliefs and be true to themselves.

“I would also tell them to look upon the horrific experiences of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s for inspiration and the fact that we cannot stop seeking equality,” he says. “If we are forced to wear the European cap and gowns [then] we should be able to wear the African Kente Cloth.”

Update:

The Elk Grove Unified School District issued a news release May 27 addressing Holmes’ removal from the ceremony.

“During a high school graduation ceremony held at the Sleep Train Arena located in Sacramento, CA on May 24, 2016, a Cosumnes Oaks High School (COHS) student was prohibited from participating in the remainder of the school’s graduation ceremony for refusing to follow direction of school officials who were attempting to uphold the established dress code and for ignoring repeated requests to remove unauthorized non-school award regalia.”

The statement went on to read “the District regrets how events unfolded in this instance; however there was no intent to discriminate against the student, as the same rules apply to every graduate.”

It continues:

“The student was allowed to walk across the stage to be recognized and took a formal picture with the principal wearing the Kente cloth. Later, the student was allowed to return to the area where students received their diplomas. The student was given his diploma.

“The District’s approved graduation uniform is a cap and gown. Students may wear, stoles, cords or medals that have been earned and awarded to students at prior ceremonies.  Unfortunately, prior to the COHS graduation ceremony, school officials were not given the opportunity to discuss with the family the student’s desire to wear the cloth.”

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