Kerion Washington, 17, went in for an interview at Six Flags Over Texas back in March, where he was told that he would have to cut his dreadlocks in order to pursue a summer job opportunity. However, after the discriminatory incident made headlines, an executive at a modeling agency took notice of the teen.
Corrie Caster, head of development at IMG Models and scout for IMG Worldwide, contacted a Texas-based model management group in order to get Washington started in the industry. That led Leslie and Briley Jones of Jones Model Management to get connected with the teen.
“I talked to his mom, and his mom was like, ‘I’ve been telling him he should model. But you know, he just doesn’t know if he has the look and I think Six Flags really knocked his confidence,’” Leslie tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Still, the former model and scout assured that Washington’s look was exactly what attracted them to him — a point that Leslie reiterated when the 17-year-old arrived to the set of his first photoshoot.
“He was like, ‘Do you want me to pull my hair off my face?’” Leslie recalled him asking. “I was like, ‘I love it.’ And he’s like, ‘I wouldn’t have to like cut it or anything for modeling?’ And I was like, ‘No! You never have to cut it. We love it.’ I told him I want you to be you.”
Leslie explains that over the next couple of hours of the photoshoot, she saw Washington gaining confidence and even looking back on his photos with pride.
“He is so well spoken and sweet and funny, and a smart kid. He ended up really loving it, and honestly, he’s a complete natural,” she says of his performance in front of the camera.
But the most exciting part of showcasing his talent is being able to give the teen a platform after facing such an upsetting setback.
“My wife and I are two white women — I’ve never been made to feel less than for the color of my skin or my hair type — but when we started this business, we really wanted to make sure that diversity was not a trend, that it was a necessity, because it needs to be, and it’s so important to us,” Leslie explains. “Hair is something that as a white woman, I don’t think about for myself. And I couldn’t even believe that it was a thing that people were discriminating against this teenage kid because of his hair and calling it extravagant or an over-the-top hairstyle.”
Now she hopes that Washington’s work in the modeling industry can be used as an example for others — showing how one discouraging experience doesn’t have to determine your future.
“To give him this opportunity to not only help himself and give him self-confidence, but to tell other kids like him that are maybe going through the same thing or aspiring young models, you don’t have to change you. You can be 100 percent yourself and anything can happen,” Leslie says. “It’s the greatest gift for me and my wife that we could ever get, to give these kids an opportunity to have this experience and to do better and help spread their message in a positive way.”
As for where Washington’s career is headed, Leslie feels hopeful about Washington’s natural skill, his message and the agencies that already have their eyes on him.
“I definitely see him doing really big things in the near future,” she says.
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