DeAndre Arnold claims he was told by his principal he needed to cut his hair in order to return to education and would not be able to attend his graduation ceremony if he failed to do so.
Arnold, who has worn dreadlocks for years, told Ellen DeGeneres on Wednesday he always followed the school’s dress code by tying up his dreadlocks which keeps his hair off his shoulders, above his earlobes and out of his eyes.
“My hair really means – like, it’s really important to me,” Arnold explained.
“My dad is from Trinidad and you know, it’s part of our culture and our heritage. I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures. At least let us try to tell you some things. Don’t just shut us out.”
DeGeneres, who spoke to Arnold on her eponymous show on Wednesday, offered the 18-year-old a $20,000 scholarship for college to thank him for standing up for himself and raising awareness for such an important issue.
Now, the teenager has been invited to attend the Academy Awards on Sunday 9 February with the team behind the short animated film, Hair Love, which is nominated for an award on the night.
On Friday, former NBA player Dwayne Wade, who produced Hair Love alongside actor Gabrielle Union, sent a video message to Arnold that was played on CBS News, telling the teenager: ”We love the way that you carry yourself and we wanted to do something special for you. You and your mother Sandy are the official guests of the Oscar-nominated team behind Hair Love at the 2020 Academy Awards.”
Wade also told Arnold that a “full wardrobe” would be provided for him and his mother on the night.
“We’ve all been so inspired by your story and this is the very least we can do to thank you for standing up for yourself and for your right to wear your natural hair at school,” added filmmaker Matthew Cherry, who created Hair Love.
“Just hearing his story, it really just represented everything we were trying to do with the short film, ‘Hair Love.’ We really wanted to just normalize black hair, normalize us,” he said.
On hearing the news, Arnold told CBS that it’s “hard to take in”.
“I’ve got excitement and then it’s just like, ‘Is this really happening? Am I in a dream?’” he said.
“It blows my mind that people that have so much voice, they’re on my side and they’re with me. I love that. I appreciate that. I really do.”