A four-year-old Black child in Chicago was told that his hair was not in accordance with school policy. Now, his mother is fighting back.
Ida Nelson, the mother of Gus “Jett” Hawkins IV, said she happily obliged when Jett asked her to braid his hair so he could show off his new hairstyle at Providence St. Mel, a predominantly Black private school located on the city’s West Side.
“(Jett) was so excited, he wanted to go to school and show the teacher because that’s what 4-year-olds want to do — show his friends and his teachers his cool hair,” Nelson told TODAY.
But after dropping him off on March 4, Nelson said she received a call from Providence St. Mel telling her that Jett could no longer wear his hair in braids. Nelson herself is an alumnus of the school and never recalled the policy during her time there as a student.
But above all, she felt disappointed that her child would be subjected to self-hatred and respectability politics at a largely Black school.
“I said, ‘We still have policies related to Black hair in 2021, as an all Black school? I’m really shocked about that,'” she said. “We have progressed, we have so much more information. … I thought surely this school would understand the trauma associated with policing Black hair and absolutely not have a policy like that.”
Nelson said she was confused about the call out after teachers saw her son wearing braids during at-home learning, yet never mentioned that he was in violation of the policy.
Nelson removed the braids and placed Jett’s hair in a ponytail. However, she received another call telling her that the ponytail was also in violation.
Nelson decided it would be best to take her grievances to school principal Tim Ervin.
“I asked him what was inappropriate about it, could it be a distraction? And he said that it could be, and I’m like, ‘To who? He’s 4.’ His reply was, ‘This is my preference,'” she said. “That also was like a double stab in the heart, that a Black man told me that the hairstyle was inappropriate.”
Ervin told the outlet that the school will review the policies on the books, however he’s unsure that the hair policy will be changed.
While Nelson says that she’s received support from community members, her focus lies in helping legislators pass The Crown Act, a law that forbids discriminatory hair policies and practices.
“To tell somebody that things that represent their culture are unacceptable … . It makes them feel unworthy. It definitely lowers your self-esteem,” Nelson told Block Club Chicago.