Kienjanae “KJ” Hooper, an 18-year old high school senior from Texas, says she was heartbroken when the principal at her school told her she was not allowed to march and graduate at the in-person ceremony unless she removes or covers her braids.
KJ was an exemplary student who earned straight A’s last year and received an award from the National Honor Society and college scholarships from a number of organizations. She was excited about her upcoming graduation since it was previously canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, she got disappointed when she learned from her principal at Gladewater High School, Cathy Bedair, that she couldn’t graduate because of her hair, which has been in braids throughout the school year and was colored. She felt like she is being unfairly targeted because of her braids.
“She’s saying my hair is a distraction. But from what?” KJ told Essence. “Really, the whole thing is really dumb to me, to be honest. Why does it matter about my hair that I can’t walk across the stage? I’m not going to say, ‘oh, she’s racist,’ but people have been calling her racist. Even before this whole hair thing people were saying that [about her].”
Meanwhile, Gladewater ISD Superintendent Sedric Clark claims that the principal was only concerned about KJ’s hair color, in accordance with the school’s dress code that states “hair coloring shall resemble a natural color.”
After discussing through phone calls with KJ’s mother, Kieana Hooper, the principal initially decided to let her graduate if KJ at least covers her hair with a cap during the ceremony. But she is not planning to cover or remove her braids and color regardless.
Moreover, Hooper said no matter what the school’s decision might be, she will support her daughter, who plans to pursue nursing in college to be able to help other people someday.