MONT BELVIEU, Texas – Alicia Keys surprised a Houston-area student with $20,000 for “standing up for what is right” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Both Keys and Ellen DeGeneres expressed their support for Deandre Arnold, a former Barbers Hill High School student who made headlines when he was told by school officials that he had to cut his dreadlocks in order to return to classes. Barbers Hill is in a small town, Mont Belvieu, about 30 miles east of Houston.
“I want to tell you that I couldn’t believe the story when I heard it,” Keys said on the show. “I’m super proud of you for standing up for what you know is right. And I know that the school needs to do the right thing.”
DeGeneres said Arnold is a good kid with good grades, who has never been in trouble ever. The senior said he wanted to be a veterinarian.
“I know that this is not easy or comfortable for you. But I want you to just relax and know that I’m here for you,” DeGeneres said.
DeGeneres said she believed male students should be able to wear their hair as long as they wanted.
Arnold said the idea of changing his hair, cuts much deeper.
“My hair is really important to me, because my dad is from Trititandad. It’s part of our culture and our heritage," Arnold said. "I really wish the school would be open to other cultures and at least let us try to tell you some things. Don’t just try to shut us out.”
The tension between Arnold and the school district regarding his dreadlocks began to escalate after the Christmas break, Arnold said. He was told that his dreadlocks violated the dress code and must be cut.
Arnold said the hair rule said male students’ hair could not pass a certain length. Arnold said he has been wearing dreads since the seventh grade and was only currently informed that his dreadlocks violated the code.
He said he was directed to cut his hair or suffer the consequences.
Arnold, who has since withdrawn from the Barbers Hill, said he was given two options: in-school suspension or alternative school.
“Alternative school is where all the kids that have behavioral issues, sell drugs, fight all the time, (go),” Arnold said. "I wish the best for them, and I know they have good qualities in them, but I don’t deserve to be grouped with them.'
He said the school will also not allow him to walk across the stage on graduation day.
“Like I’ve worked for this all my life. I’ve strived for this. I deserve this moment to walk across (the) stage and enter into life,” Arnold said. “My parents deserve this. They got me through anything, and they taught me everything. They deserve to see me walk across the stage.”
DeGeneres and Keys hope the school changes their mind.
“I am begging you," DeGeneres said. "This kid is a good kid. He deserves to graduate to walk with all the other kids. He’s a good guy. I am just urging you to do the right thing. Please.”
Keys offered Arnold some inspiring words.
“There is nothing you can’t do," she said.