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A new law in Texas, the Crown Act, prohibits race-based hair discrimination

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Texas, a new statewide law called the Crown Act prohibits race-based hair discrimination, but it's about a whole lot more than hair. KUT's Kailey Hunt in Austin has more.

KAILEY HUNT, BYLINE: The crown in Crown Act stands for...

KELLI RICHARDSON LAWSON: Creating a respectful and open world for natural hair.

HUNT: That's Kelli Richardson Lawson, one of the co-founders of the national Crown Coalition. It was founded in 2019 with the goal of ending race-based hair discrimination in education and in the workplace

LAWSON: So that everybody in this country has freedom to wear their hair how they choose.

HUNT: Every year, the coalition sponsors legislation that bars employers and schools from penalizing people because of hair texture or hairstyles, including braids, locks, Afros and other styles. Here in Texas, the law is facing an early test. A Black high school student was recently disciplined for wearing his hair in dreadlocks. Darryl George was suspended from Barbers Hill High School near Houston on August 31, one day before the Texas Crown Act came into effect.

RHETTA BOWERS: We knew that just because the law passed, it did not mean that these incidents would stop.

HUNT: That's State Representative Rhetta Bowers, who wrote Texas' Crown Act. She says it was passed to prevent situations like this.

BOWERS: Darryl George being sent to in-school suspension, it is a direct violation of the Texas Crown Act. The bill itself protects his hairstyle.

HUNT: George's family has now filed suit against the Texas Education Agency and a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state's governor and attorney general, alleging they failed to enforce the new law. School officials say George's dreadlocks violate the district's dress code because his hair falls below his eyebrows and earlobes. Texas is 1 of 24 states to pass a version of the Crown Act. It inspired April Phillips, an Austin-area social worker, to launch her own nonprofit called Frofessionals. Its slogan is crowning our communities.

APRIL PHILLIPS: I figured that now, since our hair would be liberated, it was time to unify.

HUNT: Her website aims to create a national directory of Black- and minority-owned hair care businesses based on ZIP code. Businesses can pay to advertise on the site. Phillips says the goal is simple.

PHILLIPS: Reclaim the industry, reabsorb these funds back into the pockets of Black-, Indigenous-, people-of-color-owned and operated businesses and then reinvest in the communities that they serve.

HUNT: She plans to reinvest money generated by the website's directory into community partners who provide legal support, entrepreneurship training and mental health services to Black and minority communities. The nonprofit has already caught the attention of business owners such as Jese Webb. The Austin loctician specializes in styling locks, braids, cornrows and other ethnic hair.

JESE WEBB: That's one of the main phone calls we get all the time. Do y'all specialize in natural hair? Do y'all take care of natural hair?

HUNT: Webb says the nonprofit's website is important to natural hair care businesses like his.

WEBB: This platform gives us a voice, gives us a vision, gives us a place to be seen and heard. Oftentimes, we are bunched in or put behind or looked over because we are only dealing with the natural hair.

HUNT: Supporters of the Crown movement say they'll continue to work until there are race-based hair discrimination bans at the federal level and in all 50 states.

For NPR News, I'm Kailey Hunt in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kailey Hunt

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