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UPDATE: CROWN Act ‘dethroned’ in West Virginia, bill banning hair discrimination in the schools and workplace

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WEST VIRGINIA (WVVA)- In cased you missed it, hair discrimination on paper in the 'Wild and Wonderful West Virginia,' isn't illegal.

In a vote 8-14, Senate Bill 850 was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee. Had the bill passed, it would be illegal to discriminate against a person for their hair texture or hair style, which includes protective styles commonly worn in the black community such as dreadlocks, twists, Afros and braids.

Bills banning hair discrimination have been introduced in numerous states through the CROWN Act, an acronym for "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair." California was the first state to pass the bill (SB-188), 37-0, bipartisan vote. The state assembly later voted unanimously, 69-0 to pass it.

New York and New Jersey have also passed the CROWN Act, with 24 states either considering or introducing an anti-hair discrimination bill.

In West Virginia, the bill was first introduced in the House (HB 4508) by Delegate Danielle Walker, to support students dealing with hair discrimination in our own backyard.

That student is Matthew Moore, 14, a ninth grader at Woodrow Wilson High School.

Moore had been wearing his natural hair in dreadlocks for some time, playing on the schools football team while also a member of the JROTC program.

Moore says things changed after he made the JV basketball team in December, 2019. Moore says he was told by the Varsity basketball coach to cut off his dreads or face the consequences- be benched.

In January, Moore's mother Tarhsa Green says there was a meeting at the high school with the principal, athletic director, NAACP and Our Children, Our Future, but the Varsity coach wasn't present.

Moore says the bigger confusion came during that same meeting, after the principal made a statement completely opposite from what the Varsity coach told her son, stating the solution to make 'everyone satisfied' was allowing Moore to continue wearing his dreadlocks.

But Moore had already made the choice to change his hairstyle so he could play basketball, using what his mother referred to as a 'metal comb' to rip his natural hair apart.

Motivating Delegate Walker to introduce House Bill 4508.

"We needed to make sure this young man was heard, that his parents were heard," said Delegate Walker.

After HB 4508 was stalled in the committee, the bill was alive again, reintroduced in the Senate (SB 850), later passing.

But the bill needed two-thirds majority of committee member support to move forward and reach Governor Jim Justice's desk. And the votes, weren't all there.

As of now, West Virginia legislators have dismantled probable chances for the bill passing during this session, but only time will tell when and if the CROWN Act shines in West Virginia, again.

Some residents are telling WVVA, passing the hair bill is putting "a common sense" action on paper, to prevent what many of them say happens, regularly, discrimination.

"But I feel like it's a racist reaction because not everyone's hair is the same. We [black people] can't wear our hair the same way [as other races]. " Mysty Whelan, Bluefield Resident

"I think it's sad it didn't pass because that's what we need to protect our hair. Like if someone has dreads, they can't play ball. That's not right. But that's what we like to do with our hair and our hair is different. It's not right. They need to sit down somewhere and pass the law in West Virginia." Erica Lee, Hair Stylist at Beauty & Beyond in Bluefield

But not everyone was in support of the bill. However, those that spoke with WVVA about being opposed to legislation banning hair discrimination declined to do on-camera interviews.

One person told WVVA off camera, that hair is not an 'important' issue and it didn't seem necessary to pass a law protecting it.

When our reporter asked this same man if he'd ever experienced hair discrimination, his answer was no.

These are some social media posts by viewers found on our WVVA Facebook page, all responses to our story about the anti-hair discrimination bill.

The legislative session wraps up this Saturday. WVVA will continue following this story for any additional updates.

Beckley student motivation for "CROWN Act" bill, banning hair discrimination in schools and workplace

WEST VIRGINIA (WVVA)- A bill is making it's way through the Senate that would make it illegal for schools and employers to discriminate against a person because of their hair texture or hair style.

Senate Bill 850 is part of "The CROWN ACT," which stands for 'Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.' The CROWN Act is a national effort to end hair discrimination, which includes passing bills, making the actions illegal.

Forced haircuts have made national headlines for years, most notably, African American students wearing dreadlocks and braids. If passed, the bill will provide protections to students by adding to the West Virginia Human Rights Act traits associated with hair texture and hair styles, including dreadlocks, Afros, braids and twists.

The bill was first introduced in the House by Delegate Danielle Walker, to provide protections for students like 14-year-old Matthew Moore.

"We needed to make sure this young man was heard, that his parents were heard," said Delegate Danielle Walker.

Moore is a ninth grader at Woodrow Wilson High School.

For nearly three months, Moore played on the football team while also enrolled in the JROTC program. The entire time, Moore and his mother Tarsha Green say, he wore his natural hair, in dreadlocks, without any issues, comments, or concerns from the school.

Matthew Moore

But things changed after Moore made the JV basketball team. A few days before his first game, Moore says the Varsity Basketball Coach pulled him to the side.

"He told me I couldn't play until I took out my dreads and I didn't think it was possible to take out my dreads," Moore said.

Moore's mother says school officials made reference to the sports policy, stating his hair didn't meet the school requirements for being "kept neat."

"So what was okay last week is not okay this week," Green said. "Do I think my son's hair is neat, absolutely."

Faced with being benched, Moore made a decision.

"I had to do what I had to do to play basketball." Matthew Moore

"[My son] took it upon himself and with a metal comb, [started] ripping [his hair out]," said Green. "His hair is still falling out to this day. I think he deals with regret, wishing maybe he stood his ground and [didn't] cut off his dreads.' But he felt like he was backed into a corner and had to make a decision."

A decision Bluefield resident Jasiah Hatch says he also faced playing for a baseball team, out of state.

"The baseball coach told me to cut my hair," Hatch said. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to play on the team."

Hatch chose not to cut his hair and relocated to West Virginia, majoring in Criminal Justice at Bluefield State College.

He says what Moore experienced at Woodrow Wilson stems from someone's negative views of dreadlocks, and feels many people across the country are making a 'conscious choice' to not educate themselves about black hair.

"One man [walked up to me] and told me those ropes on my head were sucking all the brain power out. This man, I had never met in my life, said I needed to cut all the ropes off my head." Jasiah Hatch

Green is doubling down on the necessity of needing Senate Bill 850 passed, after a memorable meeting at Woodrow Wilson High School. She hoped the Varsity Coach would address why her son was told to change his hair. In attendance, the principal, athletic director, NAACP and 'Our Children, Our Future." But Moore says, there was a missing player on the team.

"You would think the center of all this controversy, the [Varsity]coach, would be at this meeting and unfortunately he was not," Green said.

Green discussed the need for diversity training for all Woodrow Wilson staff. In that meeting with administration, Green says they offered this solution:

"We've come to a conclusion that's going to make everybody happy. [Moore] can put his dreads back in. He can do whatever he wants to with his hair." Moore's statement

But dreads are not a hairstyle that you can simply take out and put right back in, says cosmetologist Demythia Pearson.

"People don't understand the process, it takes a while for dreadlocks to grow," Pearson said.

Organizer and advocate Charkera Ervin was at Green's side during the meeting and is on the fence about if the school truly heard Green's concerns.

"The school wanted to go back and review some of the contracts athletes signed, to see if it allowed this kind of opportunity [such as Moore's'] to happen again. Those things are suppose to be up for review but I'm not sure if they're trying to be proactive, as far as advocating to the school board the need for diversity training. But the [overall] problem is creating a problem where there is no problem with hair."

Green says the school canceled a follow-up meeting and she's waiting for more information about when it's being rescheduled.

She's continuing her efforts in the capital, to get Senate Bill 850 passed, so no parent has to walk the 'cut your hair" path again.

"It's sending mixed messages to students and it's making them question their identity in ways they shouldn't even be questioning," Green said.

"I hope they don't have to go through what I've been through," Moore said.

A BILL to amend the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, by adding thereto a new section, 2 designated §5-11-21, relating to prohibiting racial discrimination based on certain hair 3 textures and hairstyles. Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia: ARTICLE 11. HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION. §5-11-21. Racial discrimination based on certain hair textures and hairstyles; definitions. 1 (a) For the purposes of this article, discrimination based on race includes, but is not limited 2 to, discrimination based on hair textures and protective hairstyles historically associated with a 3 particular race. 4 (b) The term “protective hairstyles” includes, but is not limited to, hairstyles such as braids, 5 locks, and twists. NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to clarify that race discrimination includes discrimination based on certain hair textures and styles. Strike-throughs indicate language that would be stricken from a heading or the present law and underscoring indicates new language that would be added. -Senate Bill 850

Green took her concerns to the Raleigh County Board of Education, speaking during the January meeting, and feels her concerns haven't been addressed since that meeting.

Our news team visited Woodrow Wilson High School and the board of education to confirm if they're considering any of the suggestions Green made during both meetings, including diversity training and reexamining the language of the sports policies.

Raleigh County Superintendent David Price told WVVA, it's the board's due diligence to review all policies and matters brought before them.

As for Woodrow Wilson High School, we're waiting for a response from the Principal.

Tarsha Green pictured with her son Matthew Moore

Jennifer Roberts

Multimedia Journalist

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