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I was a junior in high school on the brink of discovering a world outside of my own. I’d realized now was the time to explore who I am — to venture on the rim between me and destiny. It was my budding 17th year, and for the first time in my life I went against all wishes and wore my natural hair.

I was excited, but also extremely insecure. By now, I thoroughly understood the status quo of schools like mine. My hair could not, and would not, be socially accepted. However, I also understood it did not go against the handbook. Surely, the way my natural hair grew out of my head would not be contested at an all-Black school designed for my development. I was wrong.

After a sizable amount of ridicule on the first day by immature peers, I forced my hair’s massive weight into an obedient slicked-back ponytail. My head was aching most of that day; I could have collapsed under the pressure of trying to be perfect. Nevertheless, I could still feel my peers eyeing me, so I kept my head high despite it all.

In class I was quiet. This was abnormal for a student like me who usually darted her hand first above all others, sometimes to a point of annoyance. But that day, I could feel the heavy burden placed on my crown. My hair was loud enough, I thought. They didn’t need to see or hear from me any more than they already did.

In the hallway, I quickly paced from class to class with eyes pierced into white tile floors. The hallways were the worst. It's where everyone congregated, where everyone could see you. I tried to dart from one class to another, avoiding too harsh of a critique, knowing surely if I kept my head down and hair tucked I could avoid further embarrassment. And that is when I saw her, the Dean. She was creeping around the corner, eyeing me with a path headed straight for my own.

I picked up my pace, nearly running over other students. But just as I readied to go up the stairs to avoid her, she slipped under her tongue, "I like your hair better like that." I felt a wave of doubt and insecurity flutter over me. I could've fainted under the pressure of trying to be perfect. But to prevent receiving further injury, I swallowed my pride and grudgingly trekked up the staircase to my next course.

These wounds never had the opportunity to heal, and in college, their sores began to spill out over my life. If my people hated me so, how could I manage at my predominantly white university? How could I manage through life? What would my peers assume of me? I was so frightened of being perceived as loud, unruly and unprofessional, just as my hair had been. At that time, a dark thought carried with me from session to session, seminar to work break. No matter how intelligent I became, how beautiful, how articulate, how safe, I would always be perceived as the Michelle Obama caricature of the July 2008 issue in the New Yorker magazine.

My hair had made me the enemy, a burden I did not sign up to bear nor wished to carry. And so on March 1, 2020, in an exhausted protest against its existence, I decided to rid it of its power and remove the crown from my head.

I don’t want this to be understood as an issue of hair acceptance, though that has been a part of my journey. To me, this issue is greater than self-image or even European standards. This is about how the hair policy made me feel as a young person who just wanted to find and be herself.

When we deter young people’s creativity in any community, when we tell them that they are not enough — that the very body they possess is punishable — when we remove the voice of the generation responsible for the future we inhabit, it leads not only to their destruction but our own. Our world demands our minds to flourish. Our world demands our talents to expand. Our world demands that we take a leap of faith into the God-given purpose that is designed for us. It is only in doing so that we may inspire a great new world. It is only in doing so that we may learn a way to begin again.