When Jackson Johnston’s grandfather, affectionately known as Papa Rick, began to lose his hair, the result of chemotherapy treatments for a rare form of lymphoma, Jackson wanted to find a way to make him feel better. The 11-year-old shaved his own head, and went to visit Papa to debut the buzz cut. “Hey, Papa!” he said, pulling off the cap hiding his hair. “I thought we could start a new club together!”
“Papa was just so overcome with emotion and touched that Jackson would do something like that,” Amber Johnston, Jackson’s mom, told ABC News. But for Jackson, it was no big deal — of course he would support Papa, his best pal and fellow sports enthusiast.
Kids at school, however, didn’t get it. The sixth-grader told ABC News that, on his way to his first class, another student told him that he looked like he had cancer. “I’m just like, ‘Actually I am not the one who has cancer,” he responded. “I did this because my grandpa has cancer.”
The insults continued — he was dubbed “Bald Boy” — throughout the day, transforming Jackson’s pride into insecurity. When Pekin Middle School principal Tim Hadley discovered the bullying — and the reason as to why Jackson shaved his head in the first place — he decided to send a message.
Hadley called a school assembly, invited Jackson to the front of the room and shared Papa Rick’s diagnosis. A fellow staff member captured the assembly, and Hadley’s speech, on video. “My mom’s had thyroid cancer, my mother-in-law has uterine cancer,” Hadley told his students, as a way to relate to Jackson. “I’ve lost other people in my family to cancer.”
When he mentioned the comments made towards Jackson’s haircut, the room grew quiet. And when he asked how many kids in the room knew someone with cancer, every student raised his or her hand. “For us to judge somebody else’s reaction to [cancer] is wrong,” Hadley said, nodding.
Hadley gave Jackson an excellence award for his bold support and then announced that Jackson was going to shave his head, so that he too could stand in solidarity with Papa. Sitting on chair, towels spread around him to catch his locks, Hadley handed Jackson the clippers. Sure enough, Jackson buzzed his principal’s head, giving him a cut exactly like his own.
“He’s probably the number-one principal ever,” Jackson told ABC News. Considering that the video has over 88,000 views on Facebook, it’s safe to say that the Internet, us included, completely agrees. “The lesson is this,” said Hadley on the video, “If you truly believe in something, stand up for it even if it’s different.”