Illinois is leading the change with a new law set to take effect on January 1, that will help to put an end to hair-based discrimination for students.
The Jett Hawkins Law was approved and signed into law on August 13 by Gov. J.B. Pritzer and Black lawmaker Mike Simmons who sponsored the historic piece of legislation. For, Simmons, who wears his hair in long free-form dreadlocks, this one is personal.
“I understand what this feels like personally, to be made to be humiliated in front of your classmates,” the Illinois state senator told the Chicago Sun-Times. “To have authority figures belittle you and humiliate you in front of other people because of something that is God-given is entirely unacceptable. As somebody who wears his hair natural, I just think it would be irresponsible for me not to speak up and act on this and make a change to the policies that allow this to happen,” he added.
The new bill will aid in protecting Illinois students from hair-based discrimination and racism that often stems from wearing their tresses in braids, twists, and other natural hairstyles. The law was inspired and named after Gus “Jett” Hawkins, a 4-year-old Black student who was forced to take down his braids after the school accused the young toddler of violating the Chicago school dress code. Gus’ mother, Ida Nelson, said she spearheaded the campaign to help avoid the “stigmatizing” of children’s hair differences in school, which could have an adverse impact on student’s educational development.
“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.”