Most of his peers recognized student Jackson Johnston by is long, shaggy, blond hair with fashionable bangs. It’s kind of like a Justin Bieber doo before he got addicted to tattoos. But on Sunday, the young boy shaved his coiffure down to his scalp. And the 11-year-old’s mother said it was heartbreaking for the young boy.
His mother amber Johnston said her boy “loved his bangs.” But although the boy was sad for losing his hair, he quickly got over it because he knew it was for a greater good. Jackson was doing it to support his grandfather Rick, who had been diagnosed with Mantle cell lymphoma and had recently lost his hair.
When Jackson went back to school in southeast Iowa, his classmates jeered and taunted him. They bullied him for supporting his grandfather. Then an unlikely hero stepped in to support the 11-year-old…
Jackson’s hero, his Papa Rick, was diagnosed with the incurable Mantle cell lymphoma. A cancer of the blood and lymph nodes that mostly targets older white men.
Because Rick Wilerson didn’t want to die, he started his eight-month treatment that includes intensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Because Jackson and Rick were “extremely close” and watched football together “for days”, the boy wanted to show his support.
“Jackson shaving his head for Papa was letting him know that, ‘I can’t do much to help you, Papa, I am only 11, but you won’t be alone,’” she said.
Jackson’s ‘friends’ and other students at the Pekin Middle School were quick to shame the boy for shaving his head for his grandfather. They quickly called out insults like:
“Hey Baldy!” “You look like a cancer patient.” “Why would you want a cancer patient’s haircut?”
Because the boy couldn’t take the taunting anymore, he told Principal Tim Hadley.
The Principal knew he could punish the students, give them detention, or just yell at them, but that’s when he got wild idea! He wanted to do something unexpected to show the school’s bullies why it is not okay to pick on someone who looks different.
“We take the issue of bullying seriously,” Hadley said, “but I thought if you believe in something, you have to find a way to stand up and literally show your support. So I was lying in bed and I thought maybe I will get a hold of his mom and ask her to send those clippers in.”
Principal Haley texted Jackson’s mom and asked her to bring in the clippers.
The Principal had a brave idea. He planned to hold a school assembly and ask Jackson, the 11-year-old boy, to shave his head.
He could relate to the boy’s pain at watching his grandfather go through cancer treatment.
“My mother had thyroid cancer when I was in high school and it was incredibly difficult to watch and process and I was older than Jackson at the time,” the principal said. “She survived that battle, but my mother-in-law is currently struggling with uterine cancer and I had a grandpa that lost his battle with cancer. I know no one wants to fight this alone.”
Principal Haley “wanted to show and model what it looks like to support, really support, another person.
“I thought I could have a one-time conversation with a couple of kids or I could impact a generation,” he said. “I think a leader is someone who knows, someone who goes and someone who shows, and I needed to show the way.”
Watch Principal Haley get his head shaved in the video below!
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