The impact that teachers can have on their students’ lives truly can’t be understated.
Purity Agyeman, a Black student at a London school, learned this firsthand when she looked to Vanessa Sefa for help after her hair got messed up from being outside in the rain.
“With tears in her eyes, she expressed that she wasn’t going to go around school like this all day and would rather go home,” Vanessa said. “Her hair had started to shrink and consequently tangle up as a result of the friction from her hood and the rain battering it.”
Having a bad hair day can be tough on anyone, but Vanessa understood why it meant so much more to this precious 12-year-old.
“For anyone, irrespective of gender and race, hair is often a major part of one’s identity,” she said. “Black hair particularly is often pre-loaded with political or revolutionary theories and sentiments, even when if the individual is unaware of the context or is simply existing. Black hair is sometimes seen as ‘unkempt,’ ‘radical,’ and even ‘dirty.’ Due to these multi-layered narratives, Black people are often hyperaware of what their hair says about them.”
Halfway through a donut with 15 minutes left before the start of her next class, Vanessa listened as Purity asked if she would braid her hair. Without hesitation, the teacher rummaged around for tools she could use. All she had was a small-toothed comb, so Vanessa used her nails to create a center part and detangle Purity’s hair. It wasn’t an ideal scenario, but she was able to pull it off beautifully and just in time.
Once she finished, Purity’s entire demeanor changed. She was smiling instead of crying, and she was more than happy to give her teacher a huge hug!
“Purity is entering her teens, some of her most formative years,” Vanessa said. “Even if I thought she looked fine, I wasn’t going to turn her away, pat her on the back, and tell her she looked fine when her self-confidence was temporarily fragile. It wasn’t my place, and a pep talk isn’t what she asked for. I doubt anyone would want that response instead of actual help, if your outfit or makeup, for example, had been ruined by rain.”
Vanessa shared this story, along with some pictures, on Twitter. It quickly went viral, receiving 50,000 likes and thousands of replies from people telling their own similar stories.
In the U.K., less than 3 percent of teachers are Black. That’s why Vanessa is hoping this heartwarming moment between her and a student will highlight the importance of representation in the field of education. She’s also hoping it will encourage more people of color to pursue teaching as a career.
“This is one of the many reasons we need more #Blackteachers,” she wrote.
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