By Taki S. Raton
The teacher charged with cutting the braid of third grader Lamya Cammon is on suspended leave without pay according to Phil Harris of the Milwaukee Public School’s Office of Public Affairs.
She is still going through the disciplinary process which has not as yet reached concluding stages according to Harris.
As reported in the December 30th edition of the MCJ, the first grade teacher used scissors to cut three inches off of one of Lamya’s braids because she would not stop twirling with her hair.
She then threw the cut braid into the trash can and sent the first grader back to her seat in tears while on looking classmates laughed at the 7-year-old.
This incident occurred on Monday, November 30, 2009 in a first grade classroom at Congress Elementary School, 5225 West Lincoln Creek Drive.
As though she did something wrong, Lamya was transferred to another class. But the teacher was, heretofore as of initial writings, allowed to remain in her teaching room assignment at that time.
The District Attorney’s office did look into this case and decided not to press charges. The teacher instead was issued a $175 ticket for disorderly conduct.
According to subsequent reports, the teacher was soon transferred to a classroom at another school. As the MPS disciplinary process continues, we are now being informed of this current level of suspension.
This writer pledged at a gathering celebrating the Seventh Principle of Kwanzaa, “Imani” that the disciplinary process will be monitored until a final resolution is reached. This celebration was held at the Wisconsin African American Women’s Center, 3020 West Viliet, on Friday, January 1.
To this end of keeping the community informed, three articles on the Lamya incident have been published in the MCJ under the noted by-line on December 30th, January 13th and February 11th respectively.
Although nationally, this matter is perceived as being a “racial” incident with the teacher being white and Lamya an African American student, this writer’s response will not be perhaps the expected racial retort. Such comments, although justified and supported, will be left to other responders in this regard.
In this treatment, however, we first want to keep the attention on young sista girl Lamya and secondly on the focus that this physical abuse by this teacher of the intentional 3-inch cutting of her hair was additionally a clear assault on Black culture both ancestrally and historically.
Broad field racial comments position, however, that if this were a Black teacher cutting the braids or hair of a white 7th grade student, she would probably have been fired on the spot, disciplinary procedures notwithstanding.
Or at the very least, this process of consequence were it a Black teacher and a white girl-child would not take four months to arrive at a point of final determination. Milwaukee’s white community, nor any community for that matter, would not stand for it.
But on a more personal note, there is this concern that this teacher showed absolutely no remorse for her actions against Lamya.
As reported in the December 30th writing, Lamya’s mother is quoted as saying that the teacher apparently became “frustrated” with the 7-year-old “twirling her colorful beads adorning her braids.”
And, as noted in earlier writings, that is her right as long as such a preoccupation is not disturbing to other students.
In the article “7-Year-Old’s Mother Speaks on Cut Braids,” Helen Cunningham says that daughter Lamya got her hair braided over the Thanksgiving holidays and shares that Lamya twirls her hair “maybe out of nervousness or distraction.”
After being held back from recess because she would not stop earlier, she still was twirling the beads following the break. The teacher then called her to the front of the classroom and, according to Cunningham, the teacher told Lamya that “she was going to give her some candy.”
But when the young student came to the desk, the teacher, as earlier noted, picked up the scissors, grabbed a braid, cut it off and threw it in the trash.
Here is where a series of quoted comments by the teacher denotes a lack of remorse or any humane connection to the effects of her actions on this 7-year-old Black child.
We first want to recap that the teacher lied to the student about the candy, took some scissors, cut the braid, and threw the cut braid in the trash can. This first series of events must be noted and etched in memory.
According to Cunningham, the teacher in a threatening tone then told Lamya, “if you keep doing it, I am going to cut some more.”
As noted in a Milwaukee News 12 account, Lamya went back to her seat in tears. “She says that the teacher asked her, ‘Now what you gonna go home and say to your mamma?’ to which she (Lamya) sensibly replied, ‘That you cut off my hair.’ ”
The mother went to the school the following day to speak with Lamya’s teacher. According to the “Essence” account: “She admitted that she was frustrated that my daughter would not stop twirling her hair.” And then she said to the mother, rather casually as if it were alright, “She kept doing it, so I cut her hair.”
The teacher claimed that she cut just the end of her braid. But says the mother, “at least three inches were gone from her head.” And while speaking directly to Cunningham, the teacher admitted in a strongly worded statement as quoted by the mother:
“And she said, ‘Well, I cut it and she said if she (Lamya) keeps doing it, then I will cut some more,’ while standing there like what she did is not wrong.”
No feelings of remorse whatsoever. And to this writer’s knowledge – as there has been periodic contact with Public Affairs Department at central office to update the status of the discipline effort – there has been no apology from this teacher either to Lamya, to her mother, or no public apology to MPS or to the community for this unspeakable act towards this young child.
Collecting response data from around the country, I spoke some time ago with Sis. Yaa Asantewaa Nzinga, a former MPS instructor who now teaches in New York City:
“This is clearly an attack on our ancestry. They would be ashamed of us if we did not press forward towards demanding legal resolutions appropriate to this incident,” she said in a telephone interview.
Nzinga adds that “cutting the young sista’s braid was an assault on our culture and an assault on who we are as a people” and that we all are asked what are we doing as a community “to restore the dignity and humanity lost by this young girl as a result of what happened to her.”
This and past articles will and have been forwarded to the New Yorker who reveals that she is in constant touch with what has become a growing number of educators and African American supporters out East and nationally who are also monitoring the progress of any further disciplinary actions taken against the teacher.
Quoting again from a past writing the comments of Dr. Raymond A. Winbush, renowned scholar, activist and director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland:
“I am a psychologist and my initial reaction to this story was absolute shock when I looked at the (CNN) video.”
He shared in a phone interview that Lamya “has been traumatized and that the teacher should be fired. This is what little girls do.
“They play with their braids even if it may be a nervous habit. If this were a Black teacher in a white suburban school, who out of some sense of frustration cut the pony tail off of a 7-year-old white girl in the first grade, she would be fired on the spot.”
Winbush further contends that if this happened to this little girl, “then this could happen to any Black child in the Milwaukee Public School system or to any Black child anywhere in this country.”
The psychologist says that cutting her braid was “an absolute humiliation of this little girl and that this will stay with her for the rest of her life.” He notes that it was abuse “because this was a part of her body and by definition, this was an assault because she attacked the beauty of this Black child; she attacked her person, she attacked her culture, she attacked the very being of a young African American girl and threw it all in the trash. And she, the teacher, knew what she was doing.”
Attorney Gena Carroll from Huston in her December 16 blog “Think & Act – Proactive Black Parenting” most notably claimed that from a legal standpoint, “the teacher assaulted this student. Cutting her hair was an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.”
The attorney writes that assault “is punishable by law” and that “frustration” has never been an adequate defense for this crime.
The Houston mother says that our Black children “are so devalued in the world.” Perhaps one reason why people of other races “devalue” our children is because they are taking examples from us – just how much do we value our own children? If we do not stand up for our own children, just how can we expect others to value their humanity; to value their culture; to value their braids?
And comments from responders, both Black and white, just continued on and on and on from Jersey, Cleveland, Detroit, Compton, Dallas, Virginia, Washington.
Nordette Adams out of New Orleans in her “NEWS&POLITICS” blog notes for example that awareness and comments on this story “are growing.”
She quotes “Lamar” who says that “the teacher should be fired” and that “the incident is nearly unfathomable. It is hard for me to even imagine one of my daughters coming home and saying, ‘the teacher cut my braid off’.”
In a December 21 letter to MPS Superintendent William G. Andrekopoulos, State Representative Annette Polly Williams said that in the Black community, “a woman’s hair is extremely important and connects to our culture.” She adds:
“This is an extremely humiliating and demoralizing response to what was probably a small annoyance on the part of this young girl.
“I believe that most would agree that this teacher’s conduct is completely unacceptable. She needs to be reprimanded to the fullest extent and measures should be taken so that incidents like this will not happen again.”
To Adam’s above comment noting the number of individuals nationwide drawn to this story, as of my December 30 writing there were 448,000 Internet hits just on the Lamya incident. The net response then was highly supportive of 7-year-old Lamya and of mother Cunningham. And this writer is sure that this matter is not lost to memory.
As the MPS disciplinary process approaches concluding stages, what are the reader’s reactions? What do you think should happen to this teacher? Please email this writer with your thoughts – [email protected] Comments will be selected for quoting. Please share your name and a title.
We need to do a better job of protecting our children. Again quoting Eric Grimes and Butch Slaughter in their book “Why our children hate us – How Black adults betray Black children”:
“Our children face particular challenges which often overwhelm their hope.
“However, the systematic social, educational, and economic disadvantages facing Black children are being responded to by silence. Instead, our children need to see us stand up for them and not against them in a world designed for their defeat.”