Big Hair, Don’t Care: A 5th-Grader Stands in Defiance of the Policing of Black Hair

“So, yesterday, I went to school, and I wore my hair in an afro like this...and a lot of people had a lot of mean things to say about it,” said Nashville fifth-grader Promise Sawyers, gesturing to her enviable halo of natural hair in a now-viral video on YouTube. “So that made me feel some type of way.”

It makes us feel some type of way, too—namely, when will the policing of black hair—particularly black children’s hair, as it naturally grows out of their heads—stop? Across the country, we’ve repeatedly seen children (and even their parents), insulted, mandated, abused and even denied entry to school, due to their chosen choice of hairstyle, which they are often told is unkempt or “distracting.” (In comparison to what, exactly? Oh, right.)

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“So, I told my mom and she said, ‘Promise—Don’t forget who you are and whose you are!’” Promise continued. “And I said, ‘OK, so today, I’m going back to school and I’m coming back bigger and better. And don’t allow anyone to steal your joy, don’t give them that much power. I am Promise Miamor Sawyers.”

From the mouths of babes...and Promise has wisdom and confidence far beyond her years. But as she told local station FOX17 (h/t Hello Beautiful), it was a rude awakening at a Head Middle Magnet School, where she started the school year wearing braids, presumably with extensions, before deciding to rock her natural texture in an afro.

“I felt confident and pretty,” Promise told FOX17. “At my old school, people thought my hair was cool.”

Her hair is cool, and thankfully, Promise decided to stand her ground, and go even bigger with her hair the next day. Her mother, Qui Daugherty, told FOX17 that “in their house, they meet negativity with positivity”—and that before Promise departed that morning, it was the middle-schooler who pulled out her phone and began recording the video “to pump her up before starting the school day.”

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“The video was made at that point like she’s really taking a stance,” Daugherty told Yahoo Lifestyle. “We had no idea the impact that it was gonna make and the amount of messages.”

The video has since garnered millions of views and thousands of comments affirming Promise’s right to wear her hair however she prefers—the same goal of the CROWN Act, the anti-hair bias legislation that has so far passed in New York and California and is pending in New Jersey. But while the impact made by Promise’s self-affirming message is inspiring, it’s also a sad reminder of how far we have to go in the battle to establish respect and acceptance of natural hair textures—and that our kids are often the ones on the frontlines.

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.