Following a number of disturbing recent stories about school-age children getting expelled for their natural Black hairstyles, bullied by peers, or even having teachers step in and attempt to cut or “redo” their hair, legislators in Illinois have decided it was time to step in and end the madness.
The Associated Press reported that a newly approved Illinois law would officially ban “hairstyle discrimination” in schools.
According to AP, “Illinois schools will be prohibited from issuing rules regarding hairstyles historically associated with race and ethnicity, such as braids and twists, under a new law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.”
“The measure approved by the Legislature this spring and signed by Pritzker on Friday [Aug. 13] aims to end discrimination based on students’ hairstyles,” AP reported. “It is known as the Jett Hawkins Law after Gus “Jett” Hawkins, a Black student who, at age 4, was told to take out his braids because the hairstyle violated the dress code at his Chicago school.”
Outraged by the school’s treatment of her child, his mother, Ida Nelson, created a state-wide awareness campaign to highlight the incident and illustrate how stigmatizing a child’s hair can harm and dramatically impact their overall educational development.
Following news of the Illinois law passing, Nelson called the event “monumental.”
“For us, this is bigger than just hair. Our hair is an extension of who we are as a race and is deeply connected to our cultural identity,” Nelson said. “This is one huge step towards improving the mental health outcomes for our children, as it ensures that they will be in healthier learning environments.”
Sen. Mike Simmons, a Black lawmaker who keeps his hair in dreadlocks, served as the overall sponsor of the bill in the state Senate.
“Black youth in school settings shouldn’t have to be restricted by outdated and often racist dress codes that only serve to humiliate students of color who want to wear their hair in a style that honors their heritage, ancestry, and culture,” Simmons said in a statement following the law’s passage.
The new Illinois state will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.