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Musician who was expelled from school for his hair gets his diploma 57 years later

The school had rules against long or big hair for Black students. Taylor chose to leave school and pursue his music career instead.

Musician who was expelled from school for his hair gets his diploma 57 years later
Cover Image Source: YouTube | The Denver Gazette

Rigid dress codes and gender stereotypes in schools have long been subjects of debate and criticism. These policies often enforce strict and standardized rules, prescribing what students should wear based on traditional gender norms. This can lead to various negative consequences, such as reinforcing harmful stereotypes, limiting self-expression, and perpetuating inequality.

When Otis Taylor was 17 years old, a senior at Denver high school, he was asked to “cut your hair or leave” – the renowned blues artist decided to do the latter. Now, the school board realized their mistake and granted him his long-awaited diploma, as reported by CBS News.


Taylor, now 74, was born in Chicago and reportedly grew up in Denver, Colorado. In the 60s, when he was in Manual High School, racial discrimination was prevalent and the officials set rules on Black students’ hair. They were not allowed to have long or big hair. According to Taylor, he had a James Brown haircut. "You can have all you want on the top, but you had to be clean on the sides," he said. "The whole school district was coming down on people who didn't look how they wanted you to look." 


So when they gave him the ultimatum, he left on the mission to “figure out how to do my music.” "I remember that day thinking, 'Oh, I'm out of school!'" he said. However, he did have good grades and otherwise used to stay away from trouble, according to The Washington Post.

Taylor went off to California, where his dad lived. A few years later, he got a contract with Blue Horizon Records. He did end up in Boulder, where he used to play music on and off, which got him coveted fellowships, awards, and dedicated fans. About six decades later, the Denver public school district overturned its decision to expel Taylor and give him his diploma. “I wanted to make sure we rectified a mistake from the past and commit to doing better,” said Auon’tai Anderson, vice president of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education.


Anderson gave Taylor’s honorary diploma in a ceremony on May 15 at the Denver school board office. “We will own our past mistakes.” Other than Taylor, 14 other students who missed their graduation from Manual High School in 2006 because of a temporary school closure were also granted diplomas at the ceremony. Taylor wore a traditional graduation cap and walked toward a podium as “Pomp and Circumstance” played in the background. His wife of 37 years was there to cheer for him from the audience. “It felt kind of surrealistic,” said Taylor. “It was nice.”

Though it was a happy occasion, Talor told CBS, “That wrong happened a long time ago. Being a Black man in America, I'm going to deal with wrongs," he said. "My kids went to college. My wife loves me, we've been married for 37 years. How can I regret?"


Taylor’s story came to the school board’s attention when his friend visited the school for an event and saw his picture in the glass case, which had awards and other accolades of the successful alumni.

Taylor’s friend, Evan Semon, told him about the photo and was surprised to know that he never graduated. So, he approached the school board and asked the administrators to change their decision from 57 years ago. Semon attended the graduation ceremony, and as Taylor’s name was called, “I was welling up with pride,” he said.


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