Black shoes, khaki pants and a maroon shirt — that’s the required uniform at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia. But the well-regarded college-prep charter school is no sea of sameness. Students’ hair comes in all colors of the rainbow, plus a few shades not seen in nature. Piercings decorate noses and cheeks. Lipstick is neon. “I don’t like being plain,” said senior Japaira Ellison, who on a recent weekday wore her hair blue and her lips a searing red. “I want to separate myself in some way.” Thurgood Marshall’s mission is to make sure that students from some of the roughest neighborhoods in the District make it to and through college. Ellison has already been accepted to Columbia College in Illinois, and she’s waiting to hear from a long list of others. Kijon James, whose hair and eyebrows are dyed a shocking crimson, recently got into Pennsylvania State University. And Joemese Malloy, who says her cheeks won’t be pierced forever, is aiming for Morgan State University. “We aren’t messing up our lives, we’re just living now,” Malloy said. “I’m not about to get a job now, so I’m just being young.”
Japaira Ellison, a 17-year-old senior, said her hair was blonde before it was blue. “I wanted something different,” she said. “I wanted to experiment, I guess, and it turned out cute.”
Kijon James, also 17 and a senior, is still deciding whether to accept the offer of admission from Penn State. “I like standing out, being different, trying things that no one has done before,” he said.
Joemese Malloy, an 18-year-old senior, is pragmatic about her teenage style. “I don’t want to be a 30-year-old woman with cheek piercings,” she says.
Taylor Murphy’s hair is currently pink. Before that it was blonde. Before that, dusty auburn. And it’s also been raspberry and orange. “My mom is fine with it,” says Murphy, a 16-year-old junior.”My dad’s not cool with it.”