Deandre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, appeared on a Wednesday edition of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where he received tons of support and walked away with a $20,000 college scholarship.
“I want you to … know that I am here for you, DeGeneres, 62, told the teen. That’s why you’re here.”
“Because I don’t understand this,” she added. “You get good grades. You have never been in trouble, ever. This is the first time anything has come up. And now you haven’t been in school for weeks because of this situation.”
Arnold, 18, faces in-school suspension or time at an alternative school for delinquent teens if he returns to Barbers Hill with his locs uncut — an ultimatum that’s prompted his mother to withhold him from school. The soon-to-be grad alleges he was also told he would not be able to walk with his peers at graduation.
The controversy unfolded late last year when the school district made changes to its dress code policy, making it so that male students’ hair cannot fall below their eyebrows, earlobes or shirt collar.
“Every day I would go to school, I would always be in dress code,” Arnold explained. “But the thing with them is, if it was let down, I would be out of dress code. And this issue really escalated about after Christmas break.”
Per the new policy, boys are also barred from wearing “adornments” in their hair; the policy prohibits the hair from being “gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a t-shirt collar.”
“[The district] says that even (when) my hair is up if it were to be down it would be not in compliance with the dress code,” he added. “However, I don’t take it down in the school.”
Arnold said that, for him, his locs are more than just a hairstyle; they’re a symbol of his heritage.
“My hair really means — like, it’s really important to me,” he told Ellen. “My dad is from Trinidad and you know it’s part of our culture and our heritage. I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures. At least let us try to tell you some things. Don’t just shut us out.”
DeGeneres agreed, later urging the Barbers Hill Independent School District to “do the right” thing by allowing Arnold to walk at graduation without having to cut his hair.
“This is a good kid. He deserves to graduate, to walk with all the other kids,” she said, speaking directly into the camera.
The host then invited Grammy Award-winning singer Alicia Keys to the stage to surprise Arnold, who has dreams of becoming a veterinarian, with a special gift.
“I’m super proud of you for standing up for what you know is right,” Keys began. “I know the school needs to do the right thing. Me and Ellen called our friends at Shutterfly because we know you’re a special person, and we know you are destined for such greatness and we wanted to support that greatness and invest in that greatness.”
“So we wanted to present you with a check for $20,000,” she said.
A shocked Arnold was filled with gratitude, hugging Keys and thanking her.
“Thank you so much,” he said.
Watch more in the clip below.