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Preserving Our HAIRitage: When Black Hair Is Against the Rules

By Megan Davis
The Truth Contributor

A cry for social justice has been the purpose of Braden United Methodist Church’s annual soul food potluck over the last few years.  Attended by church members and people in the community, it is a time to fellowship, learn and discuss the difficult issues black people face today, post the Civil Rights Act.

On Friday, February 22, the fellowship hall of the church filled with the aroma of  African jollof rice,  Caribbean jerk chicken, black eyed peas, greens, cornbread, fish, and macaroni and cheese, just some of the dishes brought in for the potluck. And it was filled with people; people with stories, those who have overcome and those who are going through.

There were people with battle scars and those who have found success; a gathering of black folks who know and folks who do. The theme was appropriate for the times we now live, where black people are being denied jobs and opportunities for advancement because of their choice of hairstyle albeit the most organic and culturally accurate aesthetic we can adopt.

In Florida, a new rule to allow students to escape bullying by attending private schools was supposed to be a remedy, but instead prevents those students, many of them African American, from attending these schools if their hairstyle is “unnatural”. This antiquated ideal is nothing new to private schools and suburban public schools who simply don’t understand, and wish not to, the truth about black hair.

Former Central Catholic students, Malachi Wattley and his sister Sapphire Holston, shared their challenges with the school during the event. “I’d never been through anything like this before,” said Sapphire as she recalled being bullied by classmates, and taunted about her brother’s situation after they were forced out of Central for his hairstyle, dreadlocks.

She was an honor student at the school when her brother began attending after being enrolled with his past-shoulder length hair.  Maylin Wattley, the children’s mother, shared, “Prior to his enrollment, he went to the shadow days and I spoke with the principal about his hair. When they told me there would be no problem with it, I enrolled my son in the school.”

As the story goes, this was halted in Malachi’s third week of school. What went from a promising private school education to being at the center of debate on hair, the family and the school, who were on opposing sides, both stood their ground which resulted in the untimely dismissal of the students.

The devastation it caused seemed irreparable. A young athlete felt targeted and will never forget being followed around by police and singled out from the football team which had other students with dreadlocks playing at the time. His sister will always remember how she went from flourishing to withering in a matter of moments.

To their aid at that time, were several community members including Twila Page, a student advocate, who stood with the family as they took on the school and their racially and culturally insensitive policy. The protest fell on deaf ears when the NAACP, Civil Rights Commission and the Catholic Diocese were contacted to resolve the matter.

Wattley took matters into her own hands and enrolled the children in a Toledo Public School where the bullying began. There, even teachers were asking the children about the controversy surrounding a boy’s hairstyle. Students knew [the story] and they faced humiliation, being targeted in a different way at the school.

For Sapphire, she had to receive special accommodations to help her avoid the bullies and for Malachi, the changes affected his academic progress. He too, was an honor student at one point.

But Ms. Wattley, who has two degrees and is a published author and business owner, spoke life to her children, encouraging them to do their best and showing them the many opportunities their education can afford them. She reminded them of their culture and the pride therein, pushing them to focus on themselves since they cannot change the hearts and minds of people who act in ignorance.

Her love and unending commitment to building her children up, led to Malachi being accepted into the ANSAT Aviation school to pursue a career as a pilot and it restored the joy for learning and motivation for her daughter to excel in ways she may not have had she remained at Central Catholic. Both students are on the honor roll today!

“What I went through was just a set up for what is to come. I could not have received so many scholarships and financial support to college if  I didn’t go through this.” Holston exclaimed. She has received over $150,000 in financial aid to more than 30 colleges, including several HBCUs and Hampton, Mississippi Valley, Fisk, Bethune Cookman, Grambling, Tuskegee and Freelander, where she was offered  full scholarship. 

She currently has 26 credits, earning 22 in her junior year of high school and attends the University of Toledo dually. Malachi echoed the sentiment declaring, “In conclusion, I’d like you to know that I survived Central Catholic.”

The school today has changed its policy, at least for the online handbook, removing the banning of natural hairstyles like braids, twisties and dreadlocks. The principal who started the battle with the Wattley family, left within six months of her new appointment there.

Youth members of the Toledo Ecumenical Youth Conference, led by Rahwe Shuman, shared their artistic and oratorical expressions during the event. Ayana Fagan painted a young black girl with an Afro on canvas and said it represented her, beauty and strength while Mary Mitcham recited “400 Years” which she co-authored and ended with her aspiration to become an engineer.

Corene Davis, organizer, led the guests in a medley of Old School gospel tunes like Trouble in my way and I don’t feel no ways tired and served  as the mistress of ceremonies. Social justice is something near and dear to her as her over 40 year career in diversity made a difference in the climate of companies in Ohio.

The Christian education department of Braden held several other programs during Black History Month, including baptism, youth talks and honoring community/church members for their work and dedication to the  people of the city of Toledo. Pastor Cecil J. Fitzgerald Thompson, who lead the potluck in prayer, reminded guests of the importance of fellowship at the table while giving thanks for God’s tremendous blessings.


Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/28/19 23:01:46 -0500.



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