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JECA students rally together to bring attention to the CROWN ACT

In 2019, Matthew Cherry, Everett Downing, and Bruce Smith released Hair Love, an animated short film that tells the story of a Black father trying to figure out how to style his daughter’s hair.

In order to figure it out, he watches hair tutorial videos. Later adapted into a children’s book, the book was listed on the New York Times Best Seller’s list and the film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

It brought attention to the misunderstanding of Black hair.

As a way to combat it, many states (and communities) have passed the CROWN Act, a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination (and denial of educational opportunities) because of hair texture or protective hairstyles, including braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots. In Texas, House Bill 567 has been filed to do the same.

In an effort to ensure the City of San Antonio does something similar to what the City of Austin has done, four students from Judson Early College Academy traveled to San Antonio's City Hall to make the case for a CROWN Act-like law.

“We went to the City Council Chambers to speak for future generations, such as my nieces and nephews and other people’s family members,” sophomore Victorya Hardeway said. “Hair builds somebody's character.”

On March 1, the group, which included sophomore Janabou Diallo, proudly spoke to make the case.

“My hair builds my confidence. It’s a part of who I am and what I represent as a person,” said Diallo, addressing San Antonio’s City Council. “The stigma around Black hair is a tale as old as time.”

To speak in public takes determination. To speak to politicians takes courage. To speak publicly to those who run the 7th largest city in the country about something they believe in takes bravery.

“I looked at everybody. I looked at them all individually. I made sure I made eye contact with every single one of them so they knew I was talking directly to them,” Hardaway said. “I needed to get up there and do it because I was passionate.”

They prepared for this exact moment, even though they were nervous.

“We partnered up with the [the San Antonio Chapter of the Links] and the Lemondade Circle. We had mentors teaching us how to speak, how to get their attention, how to say what we needed to say,” Diallo said.

They got the attention of District 2 Council Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, who has brought attention to hair discrimination using his own locs.

“After I had finished my speech, he looked me dead in my eye and said, ‘you did it,” Diallo said.

Now that they’ve reached the City Chambers, their goal is just to continue to bring more attention to the CROWN Act and similar ways to ensure hair discrimination does not occur at any level in society.

“I hope not just young girls get into this, but I hope young men, young boys, get into this cause. It's not just young women who are discriminated against,” sophomore Daniya Vidal said.

Sophomore Jessica Ledezma also rallied around her friends to ensure they were heard and seen.

“I wanted my friends to know that - I see them, I feel them, and I hear them,” Ledezma said. “If this act does pass, I would really definitely like to see more people express themselves through their hair. I think it's beautiful.”

Monique Broadnax, JECA’s college preparatory teacher and supporter, wants to ensure that all young Black girls feel supported on her campus. And if they don’t, they have a place to go and resources for them.

“I just met them this year and so I was blessed and fortunate,” Broadnax said. “To guide and mold these young ladies, to inspire them to promote a vision… They had a vision and I was able to say ‘OK, let's go bigger. Let's go bigger. Let's move it forward. Let's connect this and help them navigate.’ I can't even put it into words. It's just beautiful.”

All four girls hope to continue to advocate for hair equity across the community and city. One day, we may see these young ladies running for office, pushing for equity and diversity across all sectors of the community and society.

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