When we heard that a third-grader named Marian Scott was barred from having her school photo taken because she had (gasp!) red hair extensions, it was one of those SMH-why-do-I-even-bother-to-read-the-news moments. It may be 2019, but it might as well be the ’50s because girls are still shamed at school on the regular, for everything from their hair to their clothing to the shape of their bodies — and it’s got to stop.
But this story has a beautiful twist: A photographer heard about Scott being cast out from school photos, and he made sure that she had her very own photo shoot to mark her third-grade year. The photographer hero in question is Jermaine Horton of Chicago.
SheKnows spoke with Horton — a father himself — about what moved him to reach out to the Scott family. He had learned of Marian’s humiliation at her school, and he knew he wanted to try to make things right for her.
“When you’re a father, you see it different,” Scott tells SheKnows. “You say, ‘What if this was your daughter?’ Everything, everybody is numb now, another school shooting, another [tragedy]… You want to be a beacon of light and hope.”
And Horton provided a true sense of hope to Marian Scott, who was informed last month at her school picture day (at Paragon Charter Academy in Michigan) that her red hair extensions were in violation of the school’s dress code, which states that hair must be worn in “conservative” ways, with “natural tones.”
Scott was understandably devastated — especially when she was forced to stand alone in the hallway in tears while the rest of her peers had their pictures snapped, according to Today.
Marian’s father, Doug Scott, told CNN news affiliate WILX that the incident was deeply “upsetting” to Marian and their family.
Horton wrote online, “I’m so blessed to have been a part of this to give her an amazing day that showed her that she truly is beautiful and her hair color was the BOMB! Of course we kept it for the shoot!”
Horton brought two of his children — daughter My’Jey, 7, and son Jeremiah, 3 — to the photo session with Marian, hoping to put her at ease. His plan worked.
“It was really good,” Horton said of the photo shoot. “Her energy at first was apprehensive, but then they were [all] doing Fortnite dances, listening to Ariana Grande. Her confidence just popped.”
Marian raved about the photo session, too. She told news outlet WILX that she loved having the chance “to be myself.”
As for Horton, he told WILX, “Confidence is a process, especially when you’re rebuilding someone’s confidence, especially a child, because they’re so fragile… So we want to make sure that she feels not just great that day, but going forward, that it’s ongoing that she still feels that support.”
Social media was full of praise for Horton and pure joy for Marian, as evidenced by this tweet:
Sir, I am profoundly moved by your heart and heroism. Please know, you have touched hearts, held captive by prejudice (apartheid, ageism,bigotry) and set us free. Thank You💗💗🥰 😊
— victoria bieber (@allegro572) November 20, 2019
Marian no longer attends Paragon Charter — her parents removed her from the school after the photo incident. Now, Marian’s at public school, where she’s happily wearing her red locks. Her dad told Today, “There’s no uniform or restrictions on hair… She feels like she can be herself.”
Paragon Charter’s rep, Leah Nixon, spoke with People magazine about the incident and defended the school policy, saying it was clearly laid out in a handbook.
“We take great care to ensure our families are well-informed about this policy, and also work closely with students and their parents if there’s a concern,” Nixon’s statement said. “We understand the importance of good communication in helping strengthen the partnership we have with our families, and will continue to make this a priority to create a school environment where everyone is valued and has their voice heard.”
But that statement fell flat for Marian’s parents. Her father said the school failed to reach out to him and his wife, LaToya Howard, about reaching a resolution.
“If they at least would’ve reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, come get her, she’s got a hair issue, we need you to change it, that’s not allowed, it’s in the handbook,'” Scott told WILX. “They didn’t even go to those extents. They let her stay in school. So if she’s not a disruption to the class, then why is she a disruption to the picture?”
Photographer Horton believes strongly that the school policy has got to go, especially since Marian’s red hair extensions were nothing new.
“She’s been wearing her hair [like that] all year,” Horton said. He also said he learned that other children with bold hairstyles such as mohawks were, in fact, allowed to have their photos taken by the school photographer — raising questions about whether this was purely the policing of Black hair specifically.
SheKnows asked Horton what message he’d like to give to schools randomly enforcing dress codes.
“I would say it’s time for change,” Horton replied. “Not mediocre change, but important change. These are outdated rules made by old white men, when no man should be in power to tell a woman anything about her body. Women are the most disrespected creatures on planet Earth.”
Horton’s making sure he continues to do his part to make big changes happen. The photographer has begun what he calls a “passion project”: The Art of Confidence, highlighting other youth unfairly targeted and humiliated by archaic policies in schools. (You can check out Horton’s new The Art of Confidence page on Instagram.)
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Marian was denied the chance to take school photos but I wasn’t going to let it destroy her confidence! 💪🏾📸. All it takes is one to help our communities and the world. #YourFavoritePhotographer @art_of_confidence #redhairdontcare #MarianScott #blackgirlsrock #HerHair #melanin #media #viral #confidence #youth #photography #thegrio #AtlantaBlackStar
“I’m hoping out of this something great happens,” Horton said. “Let’s have a conversation [about this], let’s start a conversation.”
We think Horton’s more than begun that conversation; his mission has gone viral, much to his surprise.
“It’s crazy,” he laughed. “I can’t believe it.”
We plan to continue the dialogue as well. We’re also thrilled Marian got third-grade pictures far surpassing any school portraits — and we forever stan photographer Jermaine Horton for stepping up to help Marian get her groove back, just the way she is.