Anti-Discrimination Law Passes Thanks to Hartford Students

On September 14, 2020, the Hartford City Council passed the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), which prohibits the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists or bantu knots.

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The bill was introduced to the Council by students in Advocacy to Legacy, a nonprofit organization that teaches individuals and communities how to advocate for themselves. Each summer, students in the program choose a project to work on. Advocacy to Legacy supports them with advocacy training, research guidance, project planning, media relations/campaign implementation and presentation/public speaking preparation.

After researching its history, seven students, aged 14 to 17 years old, chose to work on the CROWN Act for the City of Hartford. They wrote individual position papers and a formal presentation for Councilwoman Shirley Surgeon, Chair of the Economic Committee, whom they asked to sponsor the bill. After asking them lots of questions, Ms. Surgeon agreed to be the sponsor and requested that they write a draft resolution. Councilwoman Surgeon shepherded the bill through the City Council internal processes, garnering support from Majority Leader T.J. Clark, Nick Lebron, Marilyn Rossetti, Wildaliz Bermudez and John Gale, as well as from local residents during public hearings. The resolution passed without issue or concern.

Hartford may be the first city in Connecticut to pass the CROWN Act. It is still on hold at the state level — public hearings were held in March, but the government was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic before it came up for a vote.

First introduced in California in January 2019 and signed into law on July 3, 2019, the inaugural CROWN Act expanded the definition of race in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Code, to ensure protection in workplaces and in K-12 public and charter schools. The CROWN Coalition is an alliance of organizations, including founding members Dove, National Urban League, Color Of Change and Western Center on Law and Poverty, that are dedicated to the advancement of anti-discrimination legislation across the United States.