“In the Future Will I be Discriminated Against Too?”
By: Rebecca S. Jones
WASHINGTON, D.C. – “It has taken us (Black America) centuries to overcome such deplorable mistreatment from another race, now we have to endure the same mistreatment from our own race.” This statement was quoted by one of the candidates selected to participate in the 2014 Leadership Institute held by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Davesus Omosun. This was after he and another student Tamon George were discriminated against, by TMCF because they wear dreadlocks. However, in order to best understand the feelings of discriminated candidates like Davesus Omosun and Tamon George, one must first fully understand what the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Leadership Institute conference is and how it relates to these talented young men.
Thurgood Marshall College Fund
This College Fund is named in honor of the first African-American United States Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. According to the organization’s history it was established in 1987, by Dr. N. Joyce Payne in cooperation with Miller Brewing Co., Sony Music, the National Basketball Association, Reebok and the American Association for State Colleges and Universities. TMCF supports and represents nearly 300,000 students attending its 47 member-schools that include public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), medical schools and law schools. TMCF helps students with a clear intention and the motivation to succeed and acquire a high-quality college education at an affordable cost.
It is the only national organization to provide scholarships, programmatic and capacity building support to the 47 public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and to date has awarded more than $200 million in such assistance to its students and member-schools. TMCF member-schools are a vital source of higher education for all students and more than 80% of all students enrolled in HBCUs attend TMCF member-schools.
Leadership Institute Conference
The Leadership Institute Conference is a 14-year-old program that is associated and hosted by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. It is described as being one that, “develops students’ leadership skills, introduces various career opportunities, creates a community of scholars, provides companies access to a talented and diverse student population, and helps students to make connections that lead to internships and full-time positions” according to TMCF’s website. Interviews are conducted throughout the spring and fall semesters of each year. Once chosen to be a part of the conference these accomplished students are named “TMCF Scholars”. The conference lasts for four days and is held in Washington, D.C. This year’s conference was held at the Washington Hilton on November 9-13.
This history is vital in denoting because TMCF consistently makes it a point to express that it prides itself in being the, “ONLY national organization to provide scholarships, programmatic and capacity building support to the 47 public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).”
Emphasis have been placed on the fact that the fund thrives off of being a supportive aid to the 47 public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This in part because the program states that it supports Black colleges and universities, yet it denies and has prohibited the display of one of the hairstyles most commonly associated with the progenitors of the Black race, “Dreadlocks”.
History of Dreadlocks
Many people have referred to dreadlocks as, “locks” “locs” or “dreads”. Dreadlocks are simply matted coils of hair. Individuals from various ethnic groups wear dreadlocks and for a plethora of reasons. However the origin of dreadlocks stems from inhabitants of North Africa, Ethiopia, Southeast Africa, Kenya and Nigeria which are all cultures that help describe where African-Americans have evolved. While African-Americans are descendants of such cultures not all members embrace their genesis.
Though members of various African ethnic groups wear “locks”, the styles and significance have the tendency to change from one group to another. They can be worn as a symbol of: spiritual conviction, ethnic pride, a political statement or even just as a fashion preference. In the ancient and eastern world, ties of dreadlocks are believed to have emerged from certain Biblical characters. It is further believed by some that even the earliest Christians were known to have worn “locks”.
Davesus Omosun just recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Adult Education. He has worked within the school system for three years in Baltimore City. He has plans of pursuing a career in higher education and tentatively plans to launch a non-profit organization called FearLessMen Enterprises, Inc. During an interview, Davesus recalled how honored he was when he first got the invitation to participate in the Leadership Institute. He expressed that, “as a former graduate of Coppin State University and a Teacher Quality and Retention Program Fellow; I was extremely excited about the opportunity to learn from some of the industries finest who had found success within their given professions. I had planned accordingly and prepared to represent myself, CSU and TMCF with the utmost pride and professionalism.”
He spent several hundred dollars on just getting prepared for the event. Therefore, when he arrived he stated that he, “was unaware of the breadth and depth of a despicable policy which had been put in place to segregate and discriminate against Black men.”
He went on to say, “This policy to ban men with dreadlocks from attending LI is completely degrading and repulsive; after taking the time to plan and spend money to attend the conference and then denied the opportunity and access to further myself and career is unbelievable.” Davesus could not believe that TMCF officials had the audacity to suggest that he go and cut his dreadlocks in order to participate in the conference. He revealed his motivation for growing dreadlocks was ridiculed because of the blatant disregard infringed upon him. He added, “my decision to grow and dread lock my hair came from a spiritual place to represent an outward expression of an inner spiritual growth and maturity – there is nothing negative about my dreadlocks nor about my demeanor or presence.”
Davesus said that he prides himself in not being among the negative stereotypes that continues to plague Black men – never been in jail and no criminal record. Finally he stated, “to be rejected from an organization without even given the chance to show my talent, character, personality, expertise, etc. is truly heartbreaking and extremely disappointing; and I am thoroughly ashamed and appalled by this policy.”
Tamon George is a Canadian citizen who has lived in the United States for nearly two years. He has an undergraduate degree in Finance and Economics. George is currently a MBA student at the University of the District of Columbia and an intern at an Embassy in Washington, who focuses on internet regulation and telecommunication policy. Furthermore he serves as a student leader and President of the Graduate Student Government Association and participates in several judicial committees that assist with governing the university. He expresses that he has maximized every opportunity to advance his academic and professional career by remaining active in almost every facet of the campus experience.
After receiving an acceptance from TMCF to attend the Leadership Institute due to his, “academic, extracurricular activities, leadership roles and strong professional decorum.” He was later informed that he was disqualified because of his physical appearance. M. Scott Lilly, Vice President of Talent Acquisition & Campus Relations stated in an email, “my offer to attend the 2014 Leadership Institute is contingent upon you adhering to our policy of no dreadlocks for males. If you confirm you are willing to follow this policy, we look forward to having you join us at the Institute.” Tamon upholds the sentiments that he wears his hair the same as his father. He believes that wearing dreadlocks is a, “representation of cultural identity, heritage and spirit – I feel it is highly discriminatory and sexist to make such a ruling.” George also admonishes that, “TMCF is not honoring the legacy of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall who stood for equality and educational advocacy.” Finally he suggests that, “TMCF is perpetuating a woefully narrow image of Black male leaders.”
Since his unfortunate experience with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s, 2014 Leadership Institute he has started a petition beckoning President and CEO, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. to, “End the ‘Dreadlocks’ Discriminatory Policy.” George has reached out to various other media outlets and facets speaking out against the blatant disregard and restrictions that Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., M. Scott Lilly and the TMCF has placed on aspiring and exceptional young Black males. Although George was disallowed from attending the Leadership Institute conference, his hope is that he can be a voice for future candidates. A voice that will disallow them from having to go through the same perils that he has faced, since this ordeal began. To support Tamon George in his petition visit the following website,
Davesus and Tamon are not alone in believing that TMCF has implemented a heartless discriminatory clause against Black males. Acting Dean of the School of Business and Public Administration at the University of the District of Columbia, Sandra Grady Yates, EdD showed her disdain in an electronic communication sent to President Taylor. An insight into that communication revealed she stated, “TMCF’s ‘policy’ of ‘no dreadlocks for males,’ announced in Mr. Lilly’s email is discriminatory on the basis of personal appearance and gender and – on its face – violates the DC Human Rights Act. See DC Code 2-1401.01 et seq.” However, the president did not stand moved by his decision at all. In fact he replied in a response, “While I respect your feelings about the TMCF Leadership Institute policy, we stand by our decision to prohibit Leadership Institute participants from wearing dreadlocks at the conference (unless the dreadlocks are maintained as part of a sincerely held religious belief).” Even though he states, unless the dreadlocks are held as a religious belief, no official from TMCF ever reached out to either of these men to determine if perhaps their dreadlocks were associated with or maintained as a part of a sincerely held religious belief!