By Emanuel D. Williams
JA Government/Politics Writer
“Her hair is a distraction. Other students were playing with it,” Faith Fennidy’s mother Montrelle Fennidy recalled hearing from her daughter’s principal. A cheerleader at her elementary school, Faith attended school the next day and came home crying because she had to take out her braids. On a phone call with the principal, Fennidy learned that there was a rule change prohibiting the wearing of braids.
Fennidy was confused because her daughter was an all-star student involved in various extracurricular activities, and she was an active parent who volunteered at her daughter’s school. The principal gave Faith a week to take out her braids.
In the African American community, braids are not only a cultural and fashion choice, braided hairstyles are also protective measures for Black women to preserve their hair. Such is the case of Faith in that she was a student athlete. With Faith’s story and so many other similar stories, a movement had begun.
The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination in the workplace, secondary schools, and colleges due to hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots.
“I just want people to walk away feeling confident in school and the workplace and be comfortable,” remarked Faith Fennidy on her harrowing experience. Her mother recalls seeking God and explaining to her daughter that they would have to, in essence, have faith.
This courageous young woman has sparked a movement of grassroots and grasstops supporters all over the country. She has been featured by Black Girls Rock and other notable brands and works with the official coalition speaking on her experience and encouraging others to be brave as well. Twenty states have enacted the Crown Act with 30 to go.
Recently, Faith and her family were in Mississippi rallying for the passage of the Crown Act. The Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus listed the CROWN ACT on its legislative agenda for the 2023 session. Currently, Faith is preparing to participate in a MS Teen pageant where she will, of course, be sporting braids and inspiring those around her.
The CROWN Act movement was established by a team of Black women leaders in collaboration with a coalition of organizations and individuals actively engaged in the movement. This includes Esi Eggleston Bracey, President, Unilever USA, CEO North America Personal Care; Kelli Richardson Lawson, Founder & CEO, JOY Collective; Orlena Nwokah Blanchard, President & COO, JOY Collective; Adjoa B. Asamoa, Founder & CEO, ABA Consulting; Dove; National Urban League; Color Of Change; and Western Center on Law & Poverty.
On March 18, 2022, H.R. 2116, Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act, passed in the U.S House of Representatives on a vote of 235 to 189, with 14 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting the bill. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) On December 14, 2022, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) took to the podium of the United States Senate Chamber and made an argument for the passage of the CROWN Act by unanimous consent. The bill failed to pass the U.S. Senate and will have to be reintroduced during this legislative session.
Other federal supporters include former U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond, Representative Ayanna Pressley, former Congresswoman and now Secretary Marcia Fudge, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee.