He is a Rastafarian who wears a turban to cover his dreadlocks, a South Florida husband and father who lives a normal life like most other people. But he is not always like everyone else because, he says, of his turban, and it’s why he is the focus of tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
Rastafarians are members of a religious group, and easy to spot by their dreadlocks.
Damon Smith: “I’ve been growing my locks now for, say, 21 years. My locks are all the way to the bottom of my calves.”
Keachia Bowers Smith: “Mine is right by my knee.”
Damon and Keachia keep their locks covered as part of their religion.
Damon Smith: “As long as we keep our locks, we keep ourselves separate from the ways of the world, to try to live a more spiritual lifestyle, and it’s also a spiritual headdress of our spiritual faith.”
Of course, you can imagine the looks they get, with long dreadlocks covered by a turban.
Keachia Bowers Smith: “You don’t want to travel with us! You need to be a fly on the wall in the airport.”
Odd looks and imaginary fears from bystanders aside, the Smiths are a normal family with a daughter in the sixth grade, and recently they went to her Broward charter school to volunteer at a school dance.
Damon Smith: “This is my first time going to the school physically to volunteer.”
Keachia got there ahead of Damon.
Keachia Bowers Smith: “I see him at the back door, and he is laughing and he goes, ‘They won’t let me in,’ so I said, ‘What do you mean they won’t let you in?'”
Damon says the school employee standing at the door had a question for him.
Damon Smith: “If I’ve been through a criminal background check, so I said yes.”
Damon was then told he had not signed up to volunteer that night, so he was not needed. He said OK.
Damon Smith: “‘OK, since I can’t volunteer, can I just come in to see…'”
Keachia Bowers Smith: “‘…what was happening?’
Damon Smith: “I’m already there.”
Keachia Bowers Smith: “And they said no.”
Damon says, if the school employee parent was trying to protect the kids from a stranger, that’s great. But he is a parent, and as he was blocked from entering the school, other people just walked right by.
Damon started laughing about it. Keachia did not.
Keachia Bowers Smith: “He’s laughing. This is serious; this lady is profiling him.”
Damon says he was laughing because he is convinced he knows his look is why they were stopping him from coming into his daughter’s school.
Damon Smith: “Honestly, I’m wearing a turban, so more than likely it’s going to be with something to do with some type of Taliban, terrorism.”
Keachia Bowers Smith: “The real story is that this lady saw him roll up and she got scared. She looked terrified.”
The Smiths are used to stares that some Rastafarians deal with, but they did not expect it at a school dance where they came to volunteer.
Keachia Bowers Smith: “We are law-abiding, like, this criminalization of him and his personal integrity as a parent of the school, this is totally inappropriate.”
Well, Howard, can a parent be blocked from walking into their daughter’s school to see them?
Howard Finkelstein: “School officials have the right to set rules to protect the children, but the rules have to be applied equally to everyone, and if someone is treated differently because of their religion or religious garb, it’s illegal and unconstitutional. If Damon were to sue and win, he could get money for the violation of his civil rights.”
We talked to the school principal at Pembroke Pines Charter School. She told us this was not discrimination, and if Damon had asked to come into the school, he would have been allowed in. We pointed out that Keachia says she did ask while standing beside Damon. The principal says, “No, she didn’t.” The principal also denied that the school employee asked Damon if he passed a criminal background check.
The principal then met with the Smiths. Keachia told us nothing was accomplished, and the only thing they got from the meeting was a scolding from the principal for talking to Help Me Howard.
Damon Smith: “I’m embarrassed.”
Despite what the principal says, Damon is convinced his turban scared the school employee.
Damon Smith: “If they’re not educated or not aware of different reasons why people wear turbans, then they are going to be afraid.”
Discrimination comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s subtle, and proving it when it’s subtle can be tough.
A hair-raising experience left you hurting you? Dread trying to solve it? Contact us. We don’t discriminate. We just try to uncover some solutions.
With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.
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