School officials at a Biloxi, Mississippi, school district are apologizing after they made an elementary student change out of a shirt that was meant to empower her and make her feel less self-conscious about her looks.
Sharika Jolly, the young girl's mother, told WLOX-TV that her daughter had been feeling down about her appearance. In an effort to make her feel better, she bought Makiyah-Jae, her daughter, a shirt emblazoned with "black girls rock" from a nonprofit organization that works to empower and mentor young black women.
"Before she wanted her hair straightened and colored blonde," Jolly told WLOX. "I'm like, 'No, baby. That's not you. This is who you are. You don't have to be like anyone else but yourself.' And I feel like she should be comfortable in her own skin."
But one day, her daughter went to school wearing the shirt and returned wearing a completely different one.
WLOX reported that Makiyah-Jae had worn the shirt to Popps Ferry Elementary school multiple times in the past, but for some reason, school officials flagged the shirt as inappropriate in this one instance.
"When I asked him what was the reason for him taking the shirt off of her, he said, 'You're right. It's not in the policy. Nowhere in the policy does it state that the shirt is out of dress code,'" Jolly told WLOX of her call with the school principal. "He said they made a judgment call, then I proceeded to ask well who are the judges judging my 8-year-old. And he said 'Well, I'm the principal, so I made the call.'"
Biloxi Schools Superintendent Arthur McMillan told WLOX that two days after calls with other officials, including administrators at the school district, Jolly's family received an apology. He said that the principal was trying to be politically correct and avoid any sort of conflict or offend anyone. Yet in doing so, he said, the principal overreacted.
"We probably overreached in this situation, but we make many decisions every day. Sometimes with decisions we make even as parents, we go back and look and think I wish I'd made that decision different. I think that's the situation here," McMillan told WLOX. "If he could make that decision again, he'd probably say 'Hey, you know that's not a big deal,' but you're always guarding against how do we not offend anybody."
According to BlackGirlsRock, Inc., the nonprofit organization serves to encourage black women to become leaders as well as boost the women's self-esteem and self-worth. The organization seeks to lift up the women through leadership, education, and positive identity development.