Vanessa Sefa, who used 'wrong tools' to help braid a 12-year-old student’s hair at school, points out the need for more Black teachers.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 2, 2022. It has since been updated.
Teachers play a huge role in shaping future generations and Vanessa Sefa reminds us why. The teacher working at a school in London helped braid a Black 12-year-old girl's hair in less than 15 minutes to restore the little girl's confidence. Small acts such as this can go a long way in supporting a child that's just finding herself. Vanessa Sefa teaches at The Archbishop Lanfranc Academy in Croydon, London, and found a 12-year-old crying, seeking her help. The rain had shrunk the girl's hair, and she didn't have a lot of time before the next class. Sefa used what she had at hand to improvise and braid her hair, reported Good Morning America. She posted the same on Twitter to remind everyone how important it was to have Black teachers in schools.
"Black y8 girl came to me during the break, crying, with her natural hair shrunk by the rain," wrote Sefa on Twitter. "In under 15 minutes and with the wrong tools I got the girl out with 2 rushed cornrows. Being black and that age, hair can mean so much. This is one of the many reasons we need more #Blackteachers." She also posted a before and after image of 12-year-old student Purity Agyeman's hair. A Black girl's hair is an important part of their identity and Sefa knows that. She points out how important it was for the young Black girl to turn to someone who understood and supported her.
Black y8 girl came to me during break, crying, with her natural hair shrunk by the rain. In under 15m & with the wrong tools I got the girl out with 2 rushed cornrows. Being black & that age, hair can mean so much. This is one of the many reasons we need more #Blackteachers #BHM pic.twitter.com/3vF7iaFzg5— Miss Sefa📚 (@Sefa_English) October 7, 2021
Purity often wears her hair in natural updos and protective style but on that day, heavy rainfall ruined her style. "With tears in her eyes, she expressed that she wasn't going to go around school like this all day and would rather go home," said Sefa. "Her hair had started to shrink and consequently tangle up as a result of the friction from her hood and the rain battering it."
My mom had a student who would come in like this daily. My mom would take a few mins to fix her up. After a few days the mom sent a comb, brush and hairbows in the girls backpack.— purple carnations🌈 (@tyedyecarnation) October 8, 2021
Turns out the mom was battling cancer and just didn't have the strength to do it
Sefa had all but 15 min to sort her hair out and had to think on the spot. "Halfway through a doughnut, I froze, looked at her, looked at her hair, and then at the time, then with 15 minutes until lessons begin said, 'OK, sit down, let's go.'" She had nothing but a small-toothed comb to work with, so she used her nails to get the center part as sharp as possible while she loosely finger-detangled her hair before braiding it into two cornrows.
When students give you cards like this for your birthday 💖😭 pic.twitter.com/bQBR6sF2jy— Miss Sefa📚 (@Sefa_English) October 15, 2021
Purity was overjoyed at the result and hugely relieved. She hugged and thanked Sefa for helping her. "I was happy because my hair wasn't in a mess anymore," Sefa recalled her student telling her. Purity had learned to do her hair through DIY methods, having lost her mother in 2018 when she was just 9. She lived with her father and confessed to Sefa that she didn't know much about hair care. Purity's father reached out to thank Sefa for helping his daughter.
Sefa explained the importance of their hair to a Black person. "For anyone, irrespective of gender and race, hair is often a major part of one's identity. Black hair particularly is often pre-loaded with political or revolutionary theories and sentiments, even when if the individual is unaware of the context or is simply existing. Black hair is sometimes seen as 'unkempt,' 'radical' and even 'dirty,'" she said.
"Due to these multi-layered narratives, Black people are often hyperaware of what their hair says about them," she continued. Sefa pointed out that Purity was entering her teens and it was important to support her. "I wasn't going to turn her away, pat her on the back and tell her she looked fine when her self-confidence was temporarily fragile. It wasn't my place, and a pep talk isn't what she asked for. I doubt anyone would want that response instead of actual help, if your outfit or makeup, for example, had been ruined by rain," she said.
The lack of Black teachers can deny students like Purity someone to look up to and seek help which can be crucial. In the UK, where Purity and Sefa live, less than 3% of teachers in the U.K. are Black. America also paints a bleak picture as a report from the U.S. Department of Education in 2020 revealed that only 6.3% of teachers in the nation’s public and private K-12 schools are Black. African-American teachers made up just 11 percent of the teachers in city schools and only 5.5 percent of the teachers in suburban schools and 3.6 percent in rural schools.