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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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