A Texas teenager who almost had to choose between his hair and wearing a cap and gown walked across the stage in the ceremonial attire on Saturday.
Jacob Rush’s mother had to threaten legal action against Abeka Academy so that he and other students with “dreadlocks” and braids could commemorate the milestone in the traditional form every spring.
It was a rocky road for his mother, Latrenda Rush, who said she was “taken back” when Jacob’s application to walk in the school’s graduation ceremony was rejected in March. She fueled her anger into action. The protective mother blasted the school on social media and launched an online petition calling for the school to change the policy.
Facing public pressure, Abeka posted a public apology on social and removed the word “dreadlocks” from the policy, but that wasn’t enough for Latrenda and Jacob. They wanted to ensure that no other student would be prevented from reaching their goals because of a hairstyle. So she hired an attorney and rallied against the school’s policy.
“I think that they’ve never had anyone to challenge them,” Latrenda Rush told Atlanta Black Star. “There’s an old saying that when someone is doing wrong, or has done wrong, they’re not sorry for what they’ve done, but they started for how they got caught.”
The family traveled from Dallas, Texas, to Pensacola, Florida, for the graduation ceremony on Saturday, where Jacob and any other boys with hair past their ears could march under the revamped policy.
Jacob, a high achiever, is a straight-A student who received an associate’s degree in biology one week before his high school graduation. His mother homeschooled him for several years, but he chose to complete Abeka’s virtual program because it offered students the option to march across the stage. Jacob told Atlanta Black Star that he wanted to celebrate “how much work he put into” achieving his accomplishments.
“It was a lot of sacrifice for him for the whole family. Homeschooling is not a walk in the park,” said Latrenda Rush, who had a long career as a public school teacher. “So, to remove our mindset and public schools to homeschooling and choose this particular program and do the work that was required, I think that that’s his reward — being able to march.”
Latrenda Rush said she is also proud that her son’s bravery will help other students.
The family’s attorney, Sue-Ann Robinson, said the school’s policy was a “blatant example of hair discrimination” against students with textured hair.
Abeka’s previous policy before required male students to have tapered hair that does not come over the ears, eyebrows, or collar. It also barred braids, dreadlocks, buns and ponytails. Robinson sent a letter to the school demanding that the policy be amended.
Robinson said Abeka’s disregard for Black hair indicates why Congress must pass the Crown Act. The House approved the bill that prohibits hair-related discrimination on March 18. However, it must be approved by the Senate and signed by President Joe Biden before becoming law.
“There are systems still in place that discriminate against African-Americans every day and attempt to strip away at our right to exist,” Robinson told Atlanta Black Star. “The Crown Act and standing up for an amazing student like Jacob is how we fight back.”
“I am glad Jacob will be able to show up as his whole self for this milestone, and it is my honor to attend and celebrate this achievement with him and his family.”
Jacob plans to spend his summer working as a registered dental assistant before starting courses for his bachelor’s degree in the fall. He wants to be an anesthesiologist but has not decided which university he will attend yet.
The graduate told the Atlanta Black Star he felt emotionally overwhelmed and singled out when he found out about the school’s policy, but he feels “better” now since the school has changed it “so that other people can go the way they want to.”