Our Clothes Won't Save Us

Houston has made a significant splash in the news lately due to Principal Carlotta Outley Brown’s decision to impose a dress code for parents on the campus of James Madison High School.   The poorly written code states that parents will not be allowed on campus if they wear a bonnet, shower cap, leggings, sagging pants, and many other inconsequential articles of clothing. 

Principal Outley-Brown is experiencing a well-deserved backlash.  The district has not addressed the public outrage.  Madison’s parents are at the mercy of the policy right now.  I’ve read an unsettling amount of opinions about this, and I’ll admit that nothing hurts more than the judgment of the parents that may potentially violate this policy while attempting to address the needs of their children.

I’ve lived in Houston, Texas for 18 years, and I’ve had the pleasure of working in education for 14 of them.  I’ve worked for the true gamut of parents.  Truly, there is not a parent “type” that I haven’t worked for across the entire Greater Houston area.  I have never met one that did not want the best for their child.  However, many of them have shared a common bond, whether they know it or not, of struggling to get their child a fair and equitable education in Houston ISD. 

We are witnessing a district that is falling apart at the seams.  From violent school board meetings to state investigations, our Black children are always lost in the shuffle.  We are now reaping the results of a decades of inequitable education in Black communities.  The impact is vast, and we are responsible for making sure we do everything we can to fight against a system that is made to give our communities the least.  That is why I can’t suffer the foolishness of the dress code.  That is why you shouldn’t either.  I believe wholeheartedly in intentional community.  That means that all of us are necessary, valuable, and vital pieces in the work towards our collective liberation regardless of your clothing choice.

My hope is that you consider this as an invitation to reflect and act.  I am inviting you pay close attention to the feelings that come up when you see Black folk being in public spaces.  Do you shudder because you think we’re too loud?  Do you laugh in judgment of our clothing?  Do you feel embarrassed because we’re not presenting ourselves in the way our upbringing taught us in a futile effort to make us twice as good to get half as much?  We’ve been conditioned to think that there is a way that we can present ourselves as Black folk that will make us worthy of public gaze and keep us out of the clutches of white supremacy.  The truth is that there is no such way of being, there is only the genuine effort to dismantle that pathology that will get us to collective liberation. 

What I believe we can at least agree on is that we cannot afford to wait for our babies to get the education they deserve at Madison and across the city.  While your energy is focused on public schools, I’d like to offer a few ways in which YOU can be an active part of the change you say you want to see!

1.      Sign up to volunteer!  The volunteer process is super easy! Click here to get started: https://www.houstonisd.org/Page/126421

2.     You can fundraise for experiential learning opportunities for your neighborhood school.  This is a great way to expose our babies to museums, historical landmarks, and a variety of careers.  These types of outings are rarely prioritized in the school budget.  Your efforts could positively impact an entire school.

3.     Don’t feel like fundraising yourself?  Offer to help teachers set up projects on www.donorschoose.org to secure the funding for experiential learning.  It is quick and easy! 

4.      Go here to review the Houston Community Voices for Public Education resolution and you’re your name if so inclined:  http://www.houstoncvpe.org/sign_the_resolution_against_state_takeover_of_hisd?fbclid=IwAR38h0cl2yvfTO3V5MzwuA_qhYHXA74WP2NpZornN6gTGduaXmv8SJNXL2k


This is in no way an exhaustive list, but it is a start to making sure that we’re focused on what truly matters.  Our communities deserve support and respect, and that has nothing to do with a style of dress. 


May we see what we dream,