Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Open Letter to Faith Christian Academy of Orlando, Florida

Recently, I saw an article on Facebook via Yahoo Shine that absolutely appalled me and I thought, surely, this is just a shock feature, but untrue. Sadly, the answer seems to be no.

While others may skim by this article and not say anything, it goes against everything I believe in, and I cannot stay quiet on behalf of the brave and beautiful Vanessa VanDyke. I am literally shaking as I write this open letter because my heart is aching for the atrocity that this school completed, hiding behind a shield of God.

For readers who missed the article, according to Yahoo, Faith Christian Academy of Orlando, FL has issued an ultimatum to twelve-year-old VanDyke: shape and cut your natural hair, or be expelled from school.

Screech......

Did I just read that right? Coming from a CHRISTIAN school? In the year 2013? I understand that the school may be focused on academics and a nurturing learning environment, but according to the article, VanDyke is also an honors student and violinist at the school. Check.
 
They are hiding behind rules written by man (their student handbook), quoting that VanDyke's hair is distracting. Who cares? Did Jesus turn away disciples because they looked different? NO. He embraced them.

He marched right into all communities and took the underdogs under his wing. Stood BESIDE the poor, the blind, the broken, the weak, and even more -- was THEIR VOICE. Did he condemn them for their hair, their clothes, the color of their skin? Did he judge them? The Jesus I know wouldn't do that. Or tolerate a school doing that in His name. For any reason. Rules made by men can be changed by men. They can be altered when they are wrong.

Why is the school even focused on her hair? The real issue is the fact that VanDyke complained to the school that she was being picked on about her hair.  Yes, she was being BULLIED. And what does the school do? Appease the parents of the children who are "offended" by her hair and issue an ultimatum. INSTEAD OF ADDRESSING the REAL issue. Which is intolerance.

This is a CHRISTIAN school, people. Everyone reading this should be as outraged as I am. This is a damn fine time for the school to teach a lesson to its students about valuing and appreciating what's on the inside, instead of making fun of someone for what's on the outside. It's about appreciating character and strength. About standing up for what you believe in. Which is what VanDyke had the grace to do at only twelve years old.

According to the Yahoo article, VanDyke said, '"It says that I'm unique," she tells WKMG. "First of all, it's puffy and I like it that way. I know people will tease me about it because it's not straight. I don't fit in."' 

Here's what I say to VanDyke:

Vanessa, you are too beautiful to fit in. You were BORN to stand out and be a leader. Stand behind your beauty and never let a school, friends, or society condemn you because they are too small to appreciate diversity and uniqueness. You are smart, beautiful, and brave. NEVER CHANGE WHO YOU ARE. Jesus would love your tenacity, fortitude, and heart. Continue to remind and teach others about acceptance and love based on what's inside, which is more important than our outer appearance any way. Your insides are golden, just as your outsides are - you are truly beautiful just the way you are. I love your hair. And your spirit.

And here is what I say to Faith Christian Academy:

You should be ashamed of yourselves for forcing a little girl to change her natural appearance. Instead of focusing on the "victim" you should be listening to her complaint. Hear that she has been ostracized by your very students and address the bullying issue with the entire school. Teach your students about tolerance and acceptance--no matter what a person looks like on the outside. Tell them that bullying is not okay. Jesus would not turn a student or disciple away if she had dreadlocks, or orange hair, or green skin. He would embrace them. Teach them. Celebrate them. Heal them. Give them ALL the glory of God's UNCONDITIONAL love. Perhaps you should open your hearts as well and consider banishing a senseless rule and worry more about the why behind the issue instead of the what. You're focused on the wrong issue and penalizing a bright young student for your limitations as adults, Christians, and role models.

Here is the silver lining in this story: VanDyke (gasp!) has confidence and inner poise. So does her mother who is willing to stand up for her and fight the unjustness of the situation with her. A parent who supports her daughter's decision and backs her, because she knows the issue is bigger than just her daughter's hair. No matter what the outcome of this story, this little girl will go on to be successful. She is too bright of a soul not to. But this is setting a very sad precedent if this kind of small-minded behavior is allowed. Whether it's a private school or not.   

I understand that schools need to teach. I understand that some students may be distracting. (But, come on...that's not really the case here, and we all know it.) But when you thrust conformity onto children, they need to find a small outlet to express their unique beauty and allow their personalities to shine. A yellow bow, dreadlocks, pink hair...who really cares? What's the harm?

Instead of letting it become a distraction, why not teach tolerance instead and let kids express themselves in this small way? Why do we want to white-wash our kids any way? Jesus opened his arms to the masses. Shouldn't we be teaching, and certainly at CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS, our next generation to be more tolerant? To accept that not everyone is the same, nor should they be? It's what makes America great. It's what makes us learn more from each other and have OPEN HEARTS, not closed ones based on superficial things like appearance.

Note to Faith Christian Academy: It's what's on the inside that counts. And it looks like a twelve-year-old girl just served you a lesson.

Photo courtesy of Hinterland Gazette.

4 comments:

  1. You may be interested in the other side of the story: http://www.fcalions.org/pr/

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Scott - thank you for sharing that link...the school's representative handled the statement with grace and what appeared to be sincerity. It's hard to know what is true when large media outlets print direct quotes from the school about what their disciplinary actions are going to be - when it sounds like that direct quote was in fact, incorrect. My hope is that the media outlets who originally said they received that direct quote from school officials, admits their wrong-doing and makes a retraction. But...as we know, that likely would not happen. I'm glad to hear that was not FCA's intent - nor would they require such action. My only sadness now stems from the fact that the school (in this statement), while doing a wonderful job addressing the media backlash, made no statement about the original issue -- which was that she was being picked on by students regarding her hair, which was what reportedly started this firestorm to begin with after she raised the issue to the school's attention. It would have been nice to hear this spokesperson address FCA's stance on bullying and treating others with love and kindness. But I sincerely DO appreciate your sharing this link with me as a follow up. It's reaffirming to me in many ways, and I think her story has reminded many people of what's really important here. Thank you!

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  4. The school administration never received a report from Vanessa's parents on bullying. You can view the school's stance on bullying here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7-Xb5a3YhlYQ3JFY0NJVi1oWms/edit. Unfortunately - WKMG did not retract their claim despite numerous conversations with the reporter asking for this information and where it came from.

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