Texas high school senior DeAndre Arnold was given $20,000 during his appearance Wednesday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
The Barbers Hill High School student in Mont Belvieu, Texas, made headlines last week after his family revealed that he wouldn’t be allowed to walk at his upcoming graduation unless he cut his locs.
DeGeneres teamed up with Alicia Keys to present the check to Arnold, who has publicly shared that he is fighting his school district’s policy by refusing to cut his locs, because he’s “willing to take a stand.”
“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,” Keys said.
Arnold explained to DeGeneres earlier in the segment that his locs, a hairstyle rooted in Black history, tradition and sometimes religion, are not in compliance with the Barbers Hill Independent School District rules, which prohibit male students from having hair that extends below the earlobes or past the eyebrows in front.
The 18-year-old, who has been growing his hair in locs since the seventh grade, had been pinning up his hair to keep within the district’s guidelines. But his family said the school district recently revised its guidelines to include more restrictions on hair length.
“Every day I would go to school I would always be in dress code,” Arnold told DeGeneres. “But the thing with them is, if it was let down, I would be out of dress code... and this issue really escalated after Christmas break.”
“I just personally think you should be able to wear your hair however you want, especially if there’s girls with long hair,” DeGeneres said. “What’s the difference if girls have long hair and if guys have long hair?”
DeGeneres noted that she didn’t think the district’s policy was fair and that Arnold’s locs have a deeper meaning to him.
“My hair... is really important to me because my dad is from Trinidad, and it’s part of our culture and heritage, and I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures,” Arnold responded. “And at least let us try to tell you some things, don’t just shut us out.”
The student population in Barbers Hill ISD is overwhelmingly white, with Black students making up 3.1% of the population.
Arnold explained on the daytime talk show that he had been placed in in-school suspension over his locs and that his only two options would be to either return to school and remain in in-school suspension or go to an alternative school.
He added that he is also currently not allowed to walk at his upcoming graduation due to his locs.
“I’ve worked for this all my life, I’ve strived for this,” Arnold said. “I deserve this moment to walk across [the] stage and enter into life. My parents deserve this.”
DeGeneres later turned to the camera to plea directly with Barbers Hill ISD to “do the right thing” by Arnold, who aspires to be a veterinarian.
“I am begging you, this kid is a good kid, he deserves to graduate, to walk with all the other kids. He’s a good guy,” she said. “I just am urging you to do the right thing.”
Last week, Barbers Hill ISD stuck with its policy amid the backlash.
The Twitter account for the district’s superintendent, Gregory Poole, tweeted that the district has had a “community supported hair length policy” for decades.
Arnold has received wide support on social media, including from Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who tweeted last week, “Never cut your locks Deandre Arnold.”
Watch the segment on Arnold’s appearance on “Ellen” below: