FILE – Shelly Smith braids hair at her salon, Braid Heaven, Jan. 28, 2020 in Kansas City, Kan. The House on Friday, March 18, 2022, voted 235-to-189 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of hair texture and hairstyles like hair that is tightly coiled, curled, or worn in locs, cornrows, twists, braids, Bantu knots, or Afros. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
PUBLISHED: March 31, 2022 at 6:46 p.m. | UPDATED: March 31, 2022 at 6:46 p.m.
The state Senate followed the lead of the House, unanimously passing the CROWN Act, banning discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles often worn by Black women.
“Today I sit here, stand here, as the only African American senator we have, but I believe as the first African American senator with beautiful, long, flowing natural dreadlocks,” said newly elected state Sen. Lydia Edwards of Boston.
“This is natural hair,” she continued in her first speech as a senator, as she took her hair out of its bun, letting it cascade down her shoulders. “It took me so long as a part of my life to ever say that my hair is long, that it is beautiful, and that it is natural.”
The bill stemmed from a 2017 incident in which then-15-year-old twins Mya and Deanna Cook were asked to change their hairstyle from a braided style, which goes against the dress code of their former school, Mystic Valley Charter School in Malden. The twins attended the Senate hearing when the bill passed.
The girls, who are now juniors in college in the UMass system, were removed from their respective sports teams, and were told they couldn’t attend the prom. Meanwhile, white students whose hair was colored were not reprimanded for also breaking the dress code.
Attorney General Maura Healey ultimately intervened, sending a letter to the school’s director arguing that “MVRCS’s Hair/MakeUp policy violates state and federal law, on its face and/or as applied, by subjecting students of color, especially black students, to differential treatment and thus denying them the same advantages and privileges of public education afforded to other students.”
The issue of hair discrimination has received national attention, and in 2019, California became the first state to pass its own version of the CROWN Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” Since then, over a dozen states have passed similar legislation.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Boston, has been advocating for the passage of the CROWN Act at the federal level. The bill passed the House two weeks ago. President Biden has said he “strongly supports” the CROWN Act.
The Massachusetts House and Senate will now hash out a compromise bill before sending a final version to Gov. Charlie Baker.