(CMR) Shemiah Grant (30), who was involved in landmark ruling allowing Rastafarian children in the Cayman Islands to attend school with dreadlocks, was killed in a crash Sunday night.
Grant was riding his bike, which collided with a car resulting in him sustaining serious injuries. He was unresponsive at the scene of the crash and was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Grant's name will be forever etched in Cayman's history as his parents spent years fighting a decision by the Education Council to permanently expel him from the Cayman Education system due to their refusal to cut his locks.
His parents took the principal of John A Cumber Primary School, the then Cheif Education Officer, and the Education Council to court, citing an infringement of his religious freedom.
According to court documents, the Education Council refused an application by the child's parents to have him registered in a government school on the ground that the wearing of Rastafarian “dreadlocks” would contravene the school rules. The rules provided that “boys’ hair should be cut low and combed” and that “dreadlocks and designer hairstyles” were prohibited.
After an appeal by the child’s father, the Council ruled that the school’s policies had to be upheld, giving as their reasons the association of Rastafarianism with illegal drug use, that the wearing of dreadlocks was not essential to a Rastafarian, and that dreadlocks were unacceptable to Caymanian society and the dress code aimed to ensure that pupils did not suffer prejudice because of their appearance.
The child continued to attend school but was twice suspended and ultimately expelled under the Education Law, s.22, on the basis that he had committed an act such that his presence was likely to have a detrimental effect on other pupils or the school. He then was ineligible for admission to any other Government school without the Council’s consent.
However, his parents continued fighting and had that decision overthrown in 2001.
The judge who ruled in the case said while the parents did not apply for permission to be given to Grant to wear locks to school, that did not excuse the respondents from their duty to explore the possibility of some relaxation of the rule in question, possibly by allowing Shemiah to attend with his locks covered in a uniform colored cap, to avoid the drastic solution of putting him permanently out of school.
Meantime, there has been an outpouring of love on social media as persons remember Grant as an outstanding father, friend, and member of the community.
One of his children's mothers, Yemi T Ruth, said, “Thank you for gifting me our beautiful daughter. Thank you for making the efforts as a father even though you guys were thousands of miles apart.”
James Geary remembered him as “an amazing guy and great friend.”