While DeAndre Arnold may still be fighting against his high school’s administration, he now has an extra element working in his favor: a college scholarship courtesy of Ellen DeGeneres and Alicia Keys.
DeAndre made headlines last week after he was told that his long hair went against his high school’s dress code. This meant that unless he cut his locs, he would not be allowed to walk with his peers at graduation.
DeAndre’s story spread rapidly across the internet, eventually finding its way to Ellen DeGeneres. The comedian invited the high school senior onto her show on January 29, where he further explained his side of the story, discussing his family’s Trinidadian heritage and the perceived hypocrisy of not being allowed to have long hair while girls in the school are allowed to have hair extending far below their ears — the stated limit for male hair at DeAndre’s high school, Barbers Hill's.
DeAndre refused to cut his hair, and as he told Ellen, he has not been allowed to return without the threat of in-school suspension or being transferred to an alternative school. “I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures and just, at least, let us try to tell you some things,” DeAndre pleaded. “Don't just shut us out."
Visibly struck by DeAndre’s story, Ellen then called out for Alicia Keys, who surprised the student with a check for $20,000. DeAndre was endlessly grateful, and Ellen took the moment to make a direct plea for the school to “do the right thing.”
“I’ve worked for this all my life. I’ve strived for this. I deserve this moment,” DeAndre told Ellen. “My parents deserve this. They got me through anything and taught me everything. They deserve to see me walk across the stage.”
Tales like DeAndre’s are, unfortunately, extremely common. The policing of black hair in American high schools is a persistent issue, and stories like these have come to represent the manifold struggles black youth in America face when trying to do something as simple as getting an education.
As for DeAndre Arnold’s future, his mind is already set: Once he graduates high school, he plans to go to college to become a veterinarian. “I’ve always loved animals,” he explained. “Everything about animals — their sense of loyalty and companionship. You can’t get that anywhere else.”
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue