In a recent Judiciary committee meeting, a young man sat at the witness table and waited for his chance to speak. I watched him as he confidently testified to the Senators in the room about SB 63, also known as the C.R.O.W.N. Act. (The acronym stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.)
The young man asked the members of the committee if they have younger siblings, and many nodded Yes. He acknowledged that sometimes younger siblings get on our nerves, but that they also need our protection. He showed a picture of his younger sister, and talked about how she had been bullied at school because of her afro hairstyle. Her schoolmates would tease her and tell her she must have lice in her hair. Sometimes, complete strangers would come up and touch her hair without permission. And her Step Team coach told her she would have to wear her hair differently to participate in the team. When she came home crying, the young man knew he had to step up.
The primary sponsor of SB 63 is Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who acknowledged he has two biracial children who may face discrimination. As he began his testimony, Sens Westerfield gave kudos to former Rep. Attica Scott for being the one to really push this bill forward.
The first C.R.O.W.N. Act as passed in California in 2019. In 2020, Rep. Reginald Meeks introduced a version of it as a bill in that year’s General Assembly. Meeks’s bill put in place definitions of protective hairstyles and race, and prohibitions against racial discrimination that include traits historically associated with that race. That bill never moved.
In 2021, Rep. Attica Scott introduced HB 43, which added to Rep Meeks’s bill the stipulation that school disciplinary codes should prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and hair styles, and labeled it as Kentucky’s version of The C.R.O.W.N. Act. Then in the 2022 legislative session, Scott’s bill HB 31 made it out of the House Judiciary committee and received two readings in the House, but was not called for a vote before the session ended.
Across the U.S., seventeen states have passed their version of the C.R.O.W.N Act, including both blue and red states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. Our neighbor to the south, Tennessee, became the first state in the southeast to pass it, with Governor Bill Lee signing it into law on May 27, 2022. In our own state, Covington and Louisville have already passed their own versions of the bill.
In the recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing I observed, questions were raised about the effects of this law on businesses. Those were answered with assurances that it would not change employer requirements such as hairnets needing to be worn for protection in food service or near dangerous equipment.
One of the most exciting things about bills like these, is that it is our young people who are engaged in the legislative process! Our youth are engaging legislators, having meetings, showing up and raising their voices. Jeriah McMillan, the young man who spoke, is part of the Real Young Prodigy group who came to Frankfort in 2022 to help raise awareness and encourage lawmakers to pass Rep. Scott’s HB 31.
At the end of his testimony, he led everyone in the room, including the lawmakers, in reciting the Kentucky motto of “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” Let us hope the senators who heard him that day will remember that motto and vote for the C.R.O.W.N Act.