The barrage of condemnation raining down on a Tulsa charter school because of its stunningly offensive dress code banning hairstyles such as “dreadlocks, afros, mohawks and other faddish styles” has prompted action from the Oklahoma state legislature. Several state representatives said they will be forming a team to review the policies of the Deborah Brown Community School run by Langston University.
“We are working to bring the school administrators and board members together with the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus members to coordinate a review of these policies,” said state Rep. Kevin Matthews, according to KFOR-TV.
“Although direct legislative action is not an option of addressing the issue in the short term, school policies can be addressed, reviewed, or changed by the Deborah Brown Community School’s internal board.”
The school’s policy came to light when 7-year-old Tiana Parker was sent home by school officials for wearing dreadlocks, which administrators said violated school policy against “faddish” hair.
So Tiana’s father, Terrance Parker, a barber-in-training, pulled her from the charter school.
“She’s always presentable. I take pride in my kids looking nice,” Parker told KOKI TV. “She went to the school last year and didn’t have any problems,” he added, noting that Tiana’s hairstyle had not changed. “It hurt my feelings to the core.”
“Our hearts go out to the parents and family of this 7-year-old promising student,” Oklahoma State Sen. Jabar Shumate said. “We don’t want any child to feel like their educational opportunities are being infringed upon.”
Langston University, the school that sponsors the Deborah Brown Community School, released a statement indicating that after a discussion between Langston University President Kent Smith and the superintendent of the school, Ms. Deborah Brown, “it was mutually agreed that the policy in question should be changed.”
The embrace of Tiana by social media has been swift and extensive. There are well over 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for the school to publicly apologize to Parker and her family; and for the school to change its dress code or have its contract terminated.
“Though it’s not clear what other styles the school might consider faddish, the fact remains that two of the hairstyles spelled out as being unacceptable in this school’s policy are worn almost exclusively by African-Americans with natural hair,” the petition reads. “It might as well say that black girls must have their hair chemically straightened or covered with a weave in order to pass muster.”
As detailed on the website MyBrownBaby.com, Drexel professor Dr. Yaba Blay, an outspoken advocate who uses her platform to break down the binds of colorism and to help uplift the self-esteem of dark-skinned African-Americans, responded to the controversy by asking her network of friends with locs and natural hair to send her pictures and uplifting words for a message book meant to make Tiana feel better about her hair. Within 24 hours, 111 women had answered Blay’s call, which she turned into “Locs of Love: A Care Package For Tiana,” what MyBrownBaby.com described as “a virtual love fest for Tiana and brown girls everywhere.”
Thus far Dr. Blay’s blog post detailing why she created “Locs of Love” has been viewed more than 40,000 times, including by Tiana herself, who sent a text to Dr. Blay that read: “Thank you Dr. Yaba. My message to little girls is that they should believe themselves.”
“Our girls are under attack everywhere. I want them all to know that they have an army of sisters, cousins, aunties, Mamas, GrandMamas, and elders all over the world who support them and at the drop of a dime (or a news story) will have their back,” Blay told MyBrownBaby.
“Our girls need constant affirmation. They need to know that even though there are people in this world that would have us believe that our natural hair is ‘ugly’ and ‘nasty,’ that it is they who have a problem – not our girls. Not us.”
On her MSNBC show, Melissa Harris-Perry said in an open letter to Tiana:
“When I saw and heard you cry about not being able to wear your hair the way you wanted it broke my heart. First of all Tiana, no matter what your school or anyone else has said to you–we are proud of your hair–and you should be, too…For the record, Tiana, your hair is not distracting, unacceptable, a fad or wrong. Tiana, your hair is wonderful. You come from a people with a beautiful array of styles and textures that range from short to big afros that come in colors from gray to black, curly naturals that spiral every which way just because they can…So here is the MHP message to you, Tiana, and to all the little brown girls who rock their hair in all its many styles: You are perfect, just the way you are. Don’t be confused, when you’re at school, what is in your head is way more important than what is on your head!”