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The rasta family eyeing history with suit ‘to end archaic laws’ in schools

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Never in a million years did the Marghuys think they would be at the centre of a media storm because of the length of their dreadlocked hair; specifically, that of their son, 17-year-old Tyrone.

At this point, Tyrone was hoping to be a month into his educational journey at Achimota Senior High School, one of Ghana’s most prestigious institutions.

Instead, he is in court at war with the school because of its “archaic laws”, and what some have called discriminatory values after it denied him admission unless he cut off his dreadlocks.

The state has not been able to intervene on his behalf.

For people with dreadlocks, a lot of whom are Rastafari, attention because of their hair comes with the territory. For Tyrone, this attention had mostly been innocuous.

Before Achimota School, in his experience, substance had always triumphed over the surface when it came to how people related to him. His previous school attested to this.

When he chose Achimota School for his secondary education, no one around him expected his thick mane to cause a furore.

After all, things seemed to be going well for his sisters, Amrita and Nikita, also sporting long locks, who have been enrolled in St. Johns Grammar Senior High School.

Not the average Ghanaian family, Tyrone, his sisters and his dad play in a band and the locks added to their chill and eccentric personality.

He was bringing much more to the table than stellar academics.

“Some were saying we’re in the modern times so they [Achimota] wouldn’t want to reject you just because of your hair even though you qualify. So, I wasn’t expecting something so intense.”

Tyrone’s father, Tereo, on the other hand, was surrounded by more cynicism.

“When your kids get to SSS [senior secondary school], they will be forced to cut their hair,” the 55-year-old said he was told.

Having lived with locks for “well over 30 years”, he still thinks attitudes towards people with dreadlocks have gotten better although negative stereotyping and profiling still persist.

“It is easier for people to accept you now than before.”

The discrimination against him because of his dreadlocks was “very bad”, even from his own father, Tereo recalled.

Black people everywhere have had to battle centuries of hair discrimination at varying levels of society.

Over the years, schools across Africa have come under scrutiny for their hair rules.

Consider the 2016 hair protest that ensued in South Africa after pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls spoke out against the school’s code of conduct which discriminated against natural hair.

Even in Jamaica, the home of reggae legend Bob Marley and many other Rastafari who consider dreadlocks a part of their religion, their educational system has not been kind to that distinct hairstyle.

But things have to change for the better, Tereo insists. “We are in an age where people’s freedom should not be sat on.”

There is a quasi-humanist sensibility to Tereo’s approach in the matter. There’s a lot more at stake in his family’s battle with Achimota School, he feels.

Of concern to him is the potential step forward or backwards in Ghana’s societal development when all is said and done.

“We must always try to accept ourselves and tolerate some things if not we will not move forward,” argues Tereo. “A healthy civilisation is one where we accept certain things if they are not harmful.”

Also at stake is the matter of public interest, which he believes he and his son are fighting for with the lawsuit.

His son carries a similar understanding of the stakes and hopes his struggles shut the door on any future discrimination.

“If it was for only our case, they may just accept us and when we are done and new ones come with similar situations, they might also be rejected,” said Tyrone.

The public interest nature of the case has prompted support from different sectors of society; from rapper Reggie Rockstone, with his iconic dreadlocks, to Ghanaian students at the University of Edinburgh who started a petition to “abolish colonial hair rules in Ghanaian schools.”

Facing a similar battle are the Nkrabeas.

Their son, Oheneba, was also prevented from beginning school at Achimota because of his dreadlocks. He too has sued the school.

Tereo appreciates the shared struggle and wishes the two families sued the school, the Ghana Education Service and the Ministry of education together.

Right now he is getting legal advice and support from NGO Child Rights International and the Rastafari Council.

“We [and the Nkrabeas] are together. We meet to talk. Yesterday we met and the families took photos together. We are a crew.”

The varying legal paths notwithstanding, Tereo will continue to play his part. He doesn’t hide the fact that he may even be enjoying the media attention.

“Life itself is a stage. This is how I see it,” said the father in reference to the iconic William Shakespeare quote.

Phone cameras get whipped out in his presence and suddenly, his words matter. “It’s part of the whole show,” Tereo notes.

All the attention means he is also more on guard. “You have to play your part right because history is being written.”

This is advise he also fired at Ghana’s justice system, which some feel is notoriously conservative.

As far as this case is concerned, not many have faith in Ghana’s legal system that still holds on to colonial totems.

Tereo knows the odds are most likely stacked against him but that hasn’t stopped him from hoping.

“After so many people around the world have spoken in our favour, I think they should rethink and know that this is the right thing.”

One thing is for sure; change will come, he believes. “Whether today or tomorrow”

His question for judges who hear this case is simple: “Would you then be a part of the one that wrote the history or the one that fought against it?”

Amid the Marghuys’ defiance is growing regret, especially on Tyrone’s part.

The regret is not just about the struggle against discrimination but also because he really had dreams of being part of Achimota School’s rich history.

Achimota School was all he could think about ahead of the start of the academic year.

“It is like I was one with the school,” said Tyrone. “I knew I was going to Achimota and when I get there, we are putting in our efforts and creating something new.”

But now, the Marghuys have already indicated it is unlikely they will associate with Achimota School even if they win their lawsuit.

“If I am to go there, it is obvious I will be victimised and stuff,” Tyrone said.

Now his family is looking for a new school for him

“Homeschooling is also an option,” Tereo says of his son. He truly believes Tyrone is “exceptional”.

Whilst the Marghuys welcome all the support in their struggle, there is no room for pity in their books. Tereo stops short of saying success is inevitable for his son.

“We can work by. Come rain or shine. We will make it.”

The recent dismissal of their injunction application against the school, though should not prejudice the case, obviously is an indication that the matter may not be as straightforward as many non-legal minds thought. Whatever the case, after all, is said and done, we will have some clarity on the way forward with respect to dreadlocks in our senior high schools.

The writer, Delali Adogla-Bessa, works with citinewsroom.com

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