Nyree Holmes was looking forward to what should have been a proud moment for him and his family on Tuesday. He planned to walk across the stage at his graduation from Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove, California, with a traditional African kente cloth draped across his shoulders.
But as the 18-year-old's turn approached, he said he was told by the school's activities director that he would have to take the stole off. For Holmes the cloth signifies his African heritage and Christian upbringing, and he refused to hand it over:
While Mason stepped away to call security at Sleep Train Arena, where the graduation was held, Holmes said, his turn came up and he walked the stage with his kente cloth on, only to be confronted by security officers at the other end of the stage:
Eventually, Holmes said, his father approached a different security officer who helped him get back inside the arena to collect Holmes' diploma:
Speaking to me over the phone on Wednesday, Holmes explained why kente cloth is important for him and other black students. "The kente cloth has been worn by royalty and it's been used in royal ceremonies in Ghana and in other African countries where Christianity is the main religion," he said. "And me being a Christian and a person of African descent, I felt that it was right for me to represent my people and my future and my religion by wearing the kente cloth."
Xanthi Pinkerton, director of communications at the Elk Grove Unified School District, confirmed that a student had been escorted from the premises by Elk Grove School District police officers during the graduation ceremony. Cosumnes Oaks High School did not respond to a direct request for comment.
"By the request of a school administrator a student was pulled from the graduation ceremony because the student wasn't obeying the rules of graduation," said Pinkerton. "But they were just escorted out."
Holmes will attend California State University, Fullerton, in the fall and he told me he fully intends to wear his kente cloth at his college graduation in a few years as well. He said, given the chance, he'd tell school administrators that what they did was disrespectful.
"Treat everyone fairly," he said. "I didn't really have a problem with people not walking around with bedazzled hats or crazy neon pink fashions or anything. But people who say they want to represent their culture and their religion should be allowed to. That's pretty much it."