In October of this year, Paragon Charter Academy in Michigan informed the parents of 8-year-old Marian Scott that her red extensions precluded her from participating in picture day. According to the school’s official policy, students should only wear natural hair tones in order to have their photos taken. Marian’s style violated more than school policy, though; it threatened the paradigm of Paragon’s expectations for the ideal academy student.

In short, the law said she wasn’t enough and attempted to engender conformity to the social norms at Paragon (ironic name, haha). But the law can never effectively restrain what it attempts to. Not only that, but when the law tells us ‘no,’ we not only tend to resist compliance, but our human proclivity is to do the opposite. We become more insistent on being ourselves when we are told that our selves don’t matter or bear little value.

Having heard about her story, Chicago-based photographer Jermaine Horton drove nearly 5 hours to give Marian her own photoshoot in which she was encouraged to wear not only red extensions but a fully chromatic wardrobe of designer clothes…set against a colorful backdrop accentuating spontaneous freedom. Marian’s rejection illustrates the law’s ineptitude to control. St. Paul reminds us in Romans 8, “what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son…”

Instead of suppressing her individuality, the demand that she fit into Paragon’s culture indirectly resulted in a vibrant, loudly expressive display of autonomy. Grace created an atmosphere that said she was okay as her natural self…inasmuch as wearing brightly colored extensions remains a specifically Black cultural expression of cosmetic beauty and identification. While the law can never give us a picture-perfect identity, grace gives us a better one: the image of freedom and righteousness, through Jesus Christ.