Lawrence City Commission to consider adopting CROWN Act; local organizers push for passage

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Post updated at 3:07 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12:

Lawrence city commissioners are considering an ordinance that would secure anti-discrimination protections for people with textured hair, and organizers are urging the community to support its deeper meaning.

The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” combats race-based hair discrimination in the workplace, schools or other sectors. It specifically targets protections for Black people who have textured hair or wear natural hairstyles, such as curls, locs, braids, twists, afros, bantu knots and more. 

These hair textures and styles have historically been deemed unprofessional. Local instances of Black employees and students reporting they’ve been fired or kicked off athletic teams for their appearances hit close to home. The CROWN Act also aims to protect Indigenous people and people of color from discrimination based on hair that reflects culture or race.

The Lawrence City Commission during its meeting on Tuesday will consider the first draft of a local CROWN Act ordinance. Their discussion is a regular agenda item. If approved, Lawrence would be the first city in Kansas to pass a local version of the CROWN Act.

Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a Kansas City-based organization dedicated to advocacy for Black women, led work with city leaders to make Kansas City, Missouri the second municipality in the country to adopt a version of the CROWN Act. Michele L. Watley, founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, on Feb. 23 provided a presentation to the Lawrence Human Relations Commission on what similar efforts in Lawrence would look like.

Watley said she and her team have gotten a House and Senate bill introduced every year since 2020, but they have yet to see any meaningful movement at the state level, so they shifted their focus to cities and municipalities.

“We’ve been trying to really position this as an issue of economic and health and safety progress, or addressing those concerns,” Watley said. “It’s really hard to get people to understand the issue of hair. If people are being turned away from jobs or being sent home from school, we’ve got a bigger issue; if Black women are getting third degree burns and alopecia to keep their hair straight, we’ve got a bigger issue.”

After the HRC voiced support, Watley returned to an HRC meeting on June 22, contributing more of her input. HRC members during that meeting voted to ask city legal staff members to draft an ordinance, and that language was then provided to city commissioners for review.

Proposed amendments to city ordinances on discrimination include adding hair texture and hairstyles to the definition of “race” – a protected group. It also defines “protective hairstyles” as including, but not limited to, curls, locs, braids and more.

Donnavan Dillon, KU student and Loud Light member, said he and other Lawrence organizers were curious about the CROWN Act ordinance’s progress. City Commissioner Amber Sellers put him in contact with Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet. As a member of Loud Light, a Kansas organization of young political activists, Dillon formed a connection with Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet to spread a message.

“A lot of this work is getting people to see this is much more than just about a hairstyle,” Dillon said. “It’s about showing up as your authentic self. And a lot of what we’ve been trying to do is not approach it from the numbers or things like that, but really just be vulnerable and share our lived experiences to get people to recognize that this is so much more than just a single hairstyle or single comment that’s been made. It’s how we move through our lives.”

Organizers hope to have all hands on deck in supporting the ordinance. Watley said collaborating with organizations such as Black:30, B.L.A.C.K. Lawrence, Lawrence KS Juneteenth and Loud Light, have established more power behind Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet’s work. Local cosmetologists who serve clients with textured hair have also jumped on board, Watley said.

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Several public commenters during the city commission’s last meeting offered words of support, and Dillon said he’s hopeful more will do so come Tuesday’s meeting.

Organizers encourage community members to fill out this Google form to commit to urging commissioners to pass the ordinance. That can look like calling or emailing commissioners, or giving public comment on the item during Tuesday’s meeting. If applicable, personal stories add power, Dillon said.

Here’s the ordinance with proposed changes:

Ordinance-10003

The Lawrence City Commission meeting is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The meeting will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/lawrenceksvideo.

Commissioners hear public comment during meetings in person as well as via Zoom; register for the Zoom meeting at this link. Members of the public can email written comments to ccagendas@lawrenceks.org until noon the day of the meeting.

Click here to view the full meeting agenda on the city’s website. View the agenda item relating to the CROWN Act ordinance at this link.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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