Nationally, Black students are more likely to be suspended from school for discretionary reasons like dress code or long hair restrictions, according to a 2021 Brookings Institute study. In Louisville, local officials are working to ban this kind of race-based discrimination ━ and it’s one step closer to becoming a local law. 

On Thursday, Louisville Metro Council’s Committee on Equity and Inclusion advanced Council member Jecorey Arthur’s CROWN Act, which stands for “creating a respectful and open world for natural hair”. The measure aims to target anti-Black biases in schools and workplaces by protecting cultural and ethnic head coverings, natural hair textures and styles, including braids, locks and twists.

State Rep. Attica Scott introduced a similar bill twice, at the state level. She said the proposals didn’t advance, in part, because of a lacking representation and understanding around issues of race within the legislature. 

“We’re erased by the legislature overlooked, stepped over, ignored, our issues aren’t taken seriously ━  aren’t considered to have enough of an impact on enough people across Kentucky for them to consider,” Scott said. 

Regardless, Scott added that her attempts helped highlight the effects of race-based, hair discrimination. 

“It was an educational opportunity for my colleagues in the state legislature and people across Kentucky to understand the history of colonization,” Scott said. “And then today, you have Black folks and other folks of color who wear their hair naturally being basically forced to assimilate to a lifestyle that requires them to use chemicals or to use heat on their hair, things that are unhealthy and unsafe, should [they] choose not to do so.”

Scott said she’ll sponsor the CROWN Act at next year’s General Assembly session. She added that, if Louisville approves the measure, it could help pave the way to statewide passage. 

“It’s going to be really difficult for the legislature to ignore this movement, unless they want to make it clear that they’re going to dig their heels even deeper into structural racism,” Scott said.

Seven states, including Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, have already passed the CROWN Act. In a unanimous vote last year, Covington became the first city in Kentucky to adopt natural hair protections.

In Louisville, Student activists have been lobbying lawmakers to introduce legislation outlawing race-based hair discrimination. The Real Young Prodigys ━ an educational rap collective ━  did that through hip-hop. Renee Robinson is one of the group’s members. 

“As Black girls and as Black women coming up, we are facing a lot of hair discrimination,” Robinson said. “Say there’s a job that you really love. And, if I’m wearing an afro, and they say ‘you can’t do this job because your hair is in an afro,’ that knocks down your self esteem.”

D’Angelia McMillan, another member of the hip-hop group, said the CROWN Act’s passage is a necessary step to creating boundaries around unwelcome actions. 

“People used to come up to me, and they’d be like, ‘oh, your hair’s so beautiful. It’s gorgeous. Can I touch it?” McMillan said. “And, as I’m learning about the CROWN Act, now I’m thinking that that is a way that [for people] to discriminate against us, because of their standards for Black people, like, ‘oh, your hair’s supposed to be this way or that way.’”

In an email, Council member Arthur said the Real Young Prodigys’ efforts motivated his introduction of the CROWN Act. He recognized the group and its advocacy around this issue during the Equity and Inclusion Committee’s meeting on Thursday. 

“A local 10-year-old girl by the name of Renee once said, ‘Our Afros cannot be changed. And we shouldn’t be labeled unprofessional because of how our hair grows out of our head.’ And this is logical.” Arthur said. “This law basically says yes, you are allowed to be your natural self, from your natural race, to your natural color to your natural hair.”

The full Metro Council will consider and cast a final vote regarding the CROWN Act next Thursday, June 24.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.