FORT WORTH, Texas - A teenager who was turned down for a summer job at Six Flags Over Texas because of his dreadlocks is now pursuing a modeling career.
Kerion Washington, 17, applied to work at the amusement park in March and during the interview process was told he'd need to cut his dreadlocks in order to get the job. Six Flags staff told Kerion that his dreads were considered an "extreme hairstyle" per a dress code policy.
"I was very disappointed and confused. (My mom and I) never thought that was in the policy, we read through it and never saw it," he said.
Kerion chose to keep his dreads and didn't want to compromise his identity for a temporary job. His mother, Karis, shared her son's experience on Facebook and it took off on social media.
The story eventually caught the attention of Corrie Caster, head of development at Los Angeles-based IMG Models and scout for IMG Worldwide.
She believed Kerion had the moxie to become a model. She contacted him on Instagram and then passed his information to Jones Model Management, an agency based in Austin, Texas.
Jones Model Management is owned and operated by Leslie and Briley Jones. The couple help develop and place aspiring models with larger agencies in all the major fashion markets.
"(Corrie) saw Kerion's story and thought he was beautiful, so she connected him to us," Leslie said. "He was shy at first. But he's a natural. He is so sweet, so kind, well-spoken, mature and humble."
Kerion did his first photo shoot a few weeks ago and said he was nervous at first, but after some time in front of the camera he opened up.
"As I got used to it - based on what they taught me - it was fun. It was fun to experience taking pictures and walking the way I'm supposed to walk," he said.
Part of developing aspiring models at Jones Model Management includes teaching their models how to properly strut their stuff, Leslie said. They also learn how to act in front of potential clients and handle casting directors.
"We get them exposure to being in front of a camera, get them experience," Leslie said. "A lot of our kids are from small cities in the area and they've never been in front of cameras or dealt with big clients such as Gucci or Calvin Klein. We work with them so that they're ready when they work in larger markets."
Caster asked Leslie to send over Kerion's portfolio for IMG Models once they've given him enough experience.
Leslie said since Kerion's first photoshoot, he's developed a stronger sense of confidence and she's glad she can help get his message of inclusivity out there.
"His story brings more awareness for people who have natural hair or hairstyles. Locks aren't anything extreme," she said.
Karis, who is her son's biggest supporter and fan, said the whirlwind attention has been "mind-blowing" for the both of them but she's glad that people recognize the experience her son went through.
Kerion said he's excited to have an opportunity for a career where he can be himself and that hopefully it inspires other people to achieve their dreams.
"I think it's great that they got me to where I can truly be myself. Regardless of your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or hairstyle type - you can achieve anything with hard work. That's the message I want people to learn from all of this," he said.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.