Twin sisters Mya and Deanna Cook shook hands as they stood next to Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday, seething with emotion as a bill aimed at countering the intolerance they faced in the adolescence was enacted at the Massachusetts State House.
The Bill – Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair – prohibits discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles, including braids, highlights, twists and bantu knots. It also prevents Bay Staters from being denied employment or educational opportunities because of their hairstyles and textures.
Baker described the CROWN Act connection as a “citizen movement”, started by “a very small number of people in which the right thing to do became increasingly clear as the discussion progressed”.
“I’m very happy that it came to our office at the end of the session,” Baker said. “Normally, as everyone knows, I don’t comment on pending legislation because it has an annoying tendency to change as it goes through the process. But I said months ago that I hoped it would land on my desk and I could sign it.
The twin sisters, now students, from Malden choked on recalling that school administrators rejected their long braids with extensions at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in 2017. Mya and Deanna were expelled from their sports teams after they refused to remove their braids, which school officials said violated school policy.
“When I heard the story, my stomach dropped,” said Rep. Steve Ultrino, a Democrat from Malden who led the legislation, at the CROWN Act signing ceremony on Tuesday afternoon. “The work they did when they were 15 at the time, I was just amazed…their professionalism, their passion for doing the right thing.”
Signing the bill makes Massachusetts the 18th state to join the CROWN Coalition, Ultrino said.
Elected leaders of color proudly displayed their natural hairstyles at the ceremony, including State Senator Lydia Edwards, who said she was proud to wear her hair in dreadlocks. Edwards said she didn’t wear her hair naturally when she started her legal career in Boston in order to “fit in.”
“I don’t think I have to fit in — I feel like I can break the mould,” Edwards said, as she reflected on the self-esteem black women may experience as a result of this project. law.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed the CROWN Act in mid-March, making hairstyle discrimination a hate crime with mandatory reporting requirements.
“Banning natural hairstyles is racist, and banning these discriminatory policies is the right decision,” House Speaker Ron Mariano said in a statement at the time.
The Senate also unanimously passed the bill in late March. It was sent to Baker’s office to be signed into law last week.
Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Education, called the unanimous passage of the CROWN Act this spring “another step forward” in the “long march to justice.”
“We wouldn’t be here without the great courage and strength of Mya and Deanna Cook, who as 15-year-old students faced discrimination and abuse at their high school for their hairstyles. , and bravely stood up for their rights and those of so many other black women,” Lewis said in a statement at the time.
Senate Speaker Karen Spilka on Tuesday praised Mya and Deanna Cook for their courage and bravery.
“There’s a plaque I have on my desk, and it reminds me of you two: ‘Well-mannered women rarely make history,'” Spilka told the sisters. “Thank you for being fiery and brave, and standing up for what you believe in and standing up against discrimination. This is not acceptable in any form.