“There was no Black-girl hair,” she said. “I felt super sad.”
Morgan’s teacher, Kelley Anne Joyner, noticed her student was upset and pulled her into a separate virtual breakout room. Through tears, Morgan voiced her frustration that there were no hairstyles on the app that resembled her own.
“I understood why she was upset,” said Joyner, a first-grade teacher at Edmondson Elementary School who has been teaching remote classes since August. She asked Morgan, “How can we make it better?”
Morgan proposed asking Freckle to add more hairstyle options, and Joyner said, “Let’s do it,” vowing to write to the company on her student’s behalf. Morgan decided to draw a picture with several hairstyles to accompany the message, because she thought “maybe they didn’t know what Black-girl hair looks like,” she said.
On a green piece of construction paper, she drew four hairstyles that she and her sisters often wear, including braids, tight curls and, of course, an Afro.
Joyner emailed Freckle. “One of my students was so sad the other day and I asked her why and she said, ‘well I’m sad because there isn’t black girl hair for me to choose,’” Joyner wrote. “I told her I would reach out and see if we could get it added.”
At first, she got an automated response.
“Morgan was pretty upset and kept asking about it. I explained to her that making change takes time,” Joyner said, adding that while she was hopeful the company would respond, she knew it was possible that her inquiry would be overlooked.
Two weeks later, an email arrived.
“We have some fantastic news for you and your students,” a Freckle support specialist wrote to Joyner on April 20. “Our product team recently added more hairstyles to the Piggy Store based directly on your feedback!”
Morgan also received a special message from Ryan Blackwell, the chief revenue officer of Renaissance, the company that created Freckle — which is used by more than 900,000 teachers across the country, according to Freckle’s website.
“It’s your bravery and leadership that fuels us as an organization to drive our mission forward,” he wrote. “We are honored to amplify your voice across Freckle to help many girls like yourself and my 2 daughters identify themselves in the content we provide.”
Not only did Morgan inspire Freckle to expand its hairstyle offerings, but “we also added additional wig options, a wheelchair, head-coverings for students who prefer not to show their hair, and the ability for students to select skin colors and hair colors for their characters,” Renaissance said in an email to The Washington Post.
The class was in the middle of a break when the message from Freckle came through, confirming the app had been updated.
“I sent Morgan a private chat and told her to go look at Freckle. She pulled it up and screamed and started dancing around,” Joyner said. “I teared up.”
“I felt so happy that there was finally Black hair,” Morgan said. “I felt proud.”
They shared the story with the other 17 students in the virtual lesson, including Morgan’s twin sister, Ellie, and “we all celebrated together,” Joyner said. “I think it really impacted our whole class.”
“It showed the other kids what is possible,” she continued. “They can achieve change as well.”
It also underscored the importance of representation, diversity and inclusivity in education, said Trent Satterfield, the school principal.
“Our students come from a variety of different backgrounds, and it’s important to celebrate those differences,” he said. “We’re always trying to teach kids to advocate for themselves and empowering students to right wrongs.”
Plus, he added, “a lot of times teachers take on the problems of students and they try to solve those problems without including the student in the problem-solving.” In this case, though, “what I’m most proud of is that Kelley Anne included Morgan. She brought her along through the entire process.”
Joyner’s commitment to her student moved Morgan’s parents, too.
“Ms. Joyner could have brushed this off. She could have said: ‘You’re making a big deal. Just take what’s available,’” said Maya Bugg, Morgan’s mother. Instead, “Morgan is going to remember that her teacher respected her voice.”
Bugg, chief executive of the Tennessee Charter School Center, a statewide advocacy and school support group, said she is proud of her daughter and grateful that Joyner is such a thoughtful teacher.
“There are other little girls who will now be able to put on the Afro and feel empowered,” Bugg said. “You want to be able to see yourself to feel affirmed, to feel seen, to feel valued. These things go a long way for children.”
Bugg hopes that this is just the beginning and that the app, as well as other educational programs, “will continue their journey to make their space more equitable,” she said.
Morgan said the experience was eye-opening for her in several ways.
“I learned that you don’t have to be an adult to make change happen,” she said.
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