When I graduated from Columbia University, I was informed in a professional development workshop at a national conference that my hair should not distract from my excellent credentials. I did not understand how hair that grew naturally out of my scalp could be labelled as a source of barriers. The styles that were mentioned as socially acceptable for professional upward mobility were straight hairstyles that did not reflect the texture of my natural hair.
As co-founder of the CROWN Campaign, a movement founded to end discrimination and injustice of all forms including hair discrimination. I have had lived experiences of hair discrimination which fueled my passion to address systems transformation through a lens that is informed by my interdisciplinary background. CROWN campaign is an interdisciplinary team and growing village of grassroots advocates in academia, business, policy, journalism, research, health, law, the arts, and community who have lived experiences of hair discrimination, know of those impacted by hair discrimination, and have been engaging voices from around the country and globe on experiences with hair discrimination. The CROWN campaign is a labor of love.
1. A few things to know about the CROWN Campaign
The CROWN Campaign was founded to end discrimination and injustice including hair discrimination locally and globally and we do this using a “it takes a village approach”. The CROWN campaign village has shared expertise in research, law, creative arts, journalism, business, virtual and in-person activism and many other areas.
2. My Hair, My Crown, My Freedom
I have recently written and directed a short animation film, entitled “My Hair, My Crown, My Freedom” and brief discussion guide to engage local and global populations on what a diverse, equitable and inclusive world can look like.
The short animation film can be found HERE
3. Journey of the CROWN Campaign
The journey for the CROWN campaign began in February 2019, when the New York City mandate against hair discrimination was announced. I was sitting on the couch as I read the news about the hair ban. Reading the New York City hair ban validated and emboldened my voice and experiences in terms of the discrimination that I faced and I reached out to individuals in my network through a mass chain of emails about tackling this issue from an interdisciplinary lens including reaching out to Shemekka Ebony who would become a co-founder in this movement. It started with many emails. In the initial stages, there were some who said “it is just hair” and the black community has more pressing issues to address in terms of systemic racism.
Those of us who have had lived experiences knew that it is deeper than just hair in terms of impacting educational attainment, employment opportunities, upward mobility, health and well-being. This further emoboldened me to share my experiences and reach out in my networks to get an interdisciplinary team together to provide evidence on the harmful impacts of hair discrimination from a big picture lens as being much deeper than hair.
The individuals I initially engaged then referred other individuals who came to form the core crown campaign team and subsequently the growing village who have contributed their expertise. For example, Shemekka Ebony, co-founder, has been instrumental in developing the network of activist through social media advocacy. Dr. Manka Nkimbeng joined the team bringing in the research lens of the health impacts of discrimination from her dissertation research. Both Shemekka Ebony and I mentored Dr. Manka Nkimbeng as part of the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Research Program where she expressed an interest in crown campaign’s efforts and wanted to focus her enhanced learning project on the health impacts of hair discrimination. Crystal M Richardson and JB Afoh Manin have focused on the legal and policy angles with JB’s focus being on men and hair discrimination.
4. It’s Deeper than Hair – Black Hair History and perpetuation of systemic racism today
The CROWN Campaign will be launching a global series called deeper than hair to further contextualize the health, economic, social justice, and well being impacts of discrimination. In the black community, hair and hairstyles have strong historical, political, cultural, social, and familial significance in terms of identity. Such hairstyles include afros, braids, bantu knots, locs, African thread styles, twists, fades, and leaving hair in various forms of its natural state.
Unfortunately, individuals have been discriminated against on the basis of the expression of this cultural identity and practice of natural hair/hairstyles. This has resulted in a number of inequities in activities of daily living such as lack of employment opportunities, discrimination in the workplace, discrimination in school settings, job loss, microaggressions and much more. In a number of case studies, individuals have been told to conform to the dominant culture for assimilation and upward mobility further promoting racist stereotypes. There is strong research evidence on the adverse effects of different forms of discrimination on health, social determinants of health, and equity.
Understanding the historical context of black hair helps us to understand how systemic racism has been propagated in policies. Dr. Patricia O’Brien Richardson, one of the CROWN Campaign collaborators in academia provides an in-depth historical context based on her research as follows: “Black people have a rich history with hair beginning in Africa. In the earliest African civilizations, hair was considered a cultural marker and used to indicate age, marital status, wealth, rank, and tribal affiliation. In American society, hair has historically been used as a tool of systemic violence against black men and women who have been socially penalized and stigmatized for their hair. During colonial period and later in the Jim Crow era came to be described as wild, unkempt, messy, sweaty, knotty, dirty, and nappy. Wild, messy hair was often equated with wild behavior, signifying insanity.”
We see similar words, “unkempt” “wild” “messy” “nappy” “unprofessional” perpetuating structuralized and systemic racism in workplace and school grooming policies today.
5. Impact of the CROWN Campaign
Since the vision and inception of CROWN Campaign in February 2019, CROWN Campaign has provided advocacy and presentations around the country, and has a growing list of partners in advocacy, including partnering with Dr. Patricia O’Brien Richardson who envisioned the first ever historic inaugural CROWN Conference in New Jersey. An attendee at this conference, Karla Arroyo, a journalism student, has become our first inaugural CROWN Campaign fellow. She will be completing her capstone as part of the fellowship with a focus on community organizing and uplifting the stories and voices of those impacted. I, along with the CROWN campaign team and crown campaign village, will be mentoring her from an interdisciplinary framework of co-design.
Due to a request from policy makers for research on hair discrimination, CROWN campaign has created a readily accessible starter library in the resource section for evidenced based research on the impacts of hair discrimination because we recognize that it is deeper than hair. We all have lived experiences and have interacted with individuals and communities who have been severely impacted from hair discrimination in terms physically, socially, mentally.
The CROWN campaign team and village contributes expertise in the creative arts including photography, film, scholarly research, journalism, written and spoken word, in person advocacy and educational outreach, as well as social media advocacy. CROWN campaign has developed tools and resources and also curated tools and resources from the growing village that can be found here. In the village, we want everyone to feel empowered to lift their voice and expertise in various forms to dismantle racism. We have seen this manifest beautifully in the village through research, advocacy, poetry, film photography, legal, policy and many other areas. The tools and resources can be found HERE.
6. CROWN Campaign Advocacy Case
CROWN Campaign has been in advocacy for cases of discrimination including most recently two young boys who were deprived of an education within the Tatum Independent School District for natural hair. CROWN Campaign provided expert witness testimony and an advocacy letter.
It truly takes a village to dismantle racism and CROWN campaign with the help of the growing village is taking an interdisciplinary approach to tackle and dismantle racism using a multi-prong approach.
The CROWN Campaign is a team of volunteer advocates that are self-funding this important work across the United States and beyond. We cannot do it alone. We need your help!We are a growing Interdisciplinary collective of community members, professionals, and experts with lived experience that are championing the advocacy and education of the impacts of hair discrimination to natural hair citizens. We need support funding the travels, events, expenses, and labors of love from our team. Donations from those that believe in this work and can identify with the need for change, please donate and share. http://www.crowncampaign.com/donate.html
Learn more about the CROWN Campaign at www.crowncampaign.com
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Dr. Bernice B. Rumala is Co-Founder for the CROWN Campaign , an effort aimed at ending discrimination and injustice locally and globally, including hair discrimination. With more than 15 years of experience, Dr. Rumala earned a PhD and three masters degrees from Columbia University and served as a Fogarty-Fulbright and Harvard Fellow. She has contributed her interdisciplinary expertise as a change agent in the public, private, academic and international sectors. As a former senior consultant for the United Nations, her areas of interest and expertise include equity, health equity, social justice, diversity, inclusion, discrimination, interdisciplinary-programming, advocacy, community engagement, and systems transformation.
Dr. Rumala has lived experience of the ongoing challenges of severe inequities and the detrimental impacts to individuals and communities, specifically vulnerable communities and communities of color. This is unacceptable to her and should not be the norm. Dr. Rumala also considers herself a global citizen based on international experiences in more than thirty countries. She has had global experiences in stable regions as well as regions impacted by war, conflict, and instability, including Iraq where she worked for the United Nations. She continues to contribute her expertise as a global and local leader, consultant, and, is the Founding CEO of the Change Agent Firm.