The story of Leigh Bishop (recent #WCW at The Glow Up), the pre-K teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Sugar Land, Texas, who told her student August that she loved her hairstyle and then showed up the next day wearing it, actually brought a tear to my eye. But just one. OK, both. Maybe I cried a little. Not a Mufasa-death cry, but like, you know what? It just had me in my feelings.
The picture of her holding August’s face with August smiling that pure-innocence happiness smile? Maaaaan, it took me out. We all know that representation matters; as adults, we often wax poetic about the fact that seeing ideas and themes that are true to our experiences makes a difference in our self-determination and self-esteem. Hell, that’s part of why African America’s body and soul are ready to see Black Panther with outfits ironed and shoes spit shined. But the story and picture got me for another reason.
I have a 9-year-old daughter who goes to a private school in Alexandria, Va. It’s a fairly diverse school—definitely more diverse than I expected any private school to be. I remember that when we did the original interview with the school, I made it a point to stress that my daughter was black and that it was important that the school was aware of this, too. Then, on the first day of school, half her class was black. I felt relieved that hers wasn’t the only black face in her class. But that’s the students. The teachers are another story.
To my knowledge, at the lower school, there are three black teachers, and two are physical education teachers. Needless to say, my worry was that my daughter wasn’t likely to end up with a teacher who looks like her for her entire elementary school experience and perhaps beyond. Except ... she did. One of the first-grade teachers is a black woman who I believe went to an HBCU and is a Delta. And she ended up being my daughter’s first-grade teacher. I had no idea she taught there until I walked into her classroom and saw her and almost had a heart attack.
I was so happy at that moment. My daughter was going to have a person who looked like her—she even said she loved her teacher because she reminded her of her mom—guiding her. A teacher who understood some of what she’d go through in life and, at the very least, whom my daughter could look to and say, “She looks like me.” That meant a lot to me, and her teacher could tell once we had our first conversation.
Representation matters. And Ms. Bishop leveled that up. She showed that little girl that who she is and what she looks like are things to be proud of and that other people may want to look like her. Talk about an esteem boost. MY esteem went up, like, two levels from seeing that picture and reading the story. People say things, but to actually show your student, especially a little black girl, that her hair is awesome? Stick a fork in me; I’m done.
Black women have to deal with society (and both black and nonblack communities) judging their hair, and I know that hair can be a constant source of stress. And yet here goes Ms. Bishop showing up and showing out and saying, “Hey August, you are beautiful—look, my hair is like yours!”
I like feel-good stories. I especially like feel-good stories where little kids are made to feel better or are able to feel real joy because of something positive. When little black kids get esteem boosts about who they are, though, I beam with pride and I feel better about the world my children are walking into, even with all of its problems. So I appreciate what Ms. Bishop did. I know her story isn’t the only one like that, but as a parent, I’m glad to know this story exists and gets some spotlight.
To Ms. Bishop, it might have been something small to show one of her students that she did indeed like her hair. But for a lot of us parents, decisions like that and investments in both the education and the esteem of our children mean the world. There is no icebox where my heart used to be right now.
Here comes another one of those tears.