Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed a bill aimed at ending discrimination based mostly on hairstyles — particularly these related to race, together with protecting Black hairstyles — in Illinois schools.
The new legislation says schools “will not prohibit hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or hair texture, including, but not limited to, protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.”
The legislation bans private and non-private schools from making dress codes that do not permit hairstyles like braids, dreadlocks, and cornrows.
“For so many people, how you dress and how you look is an expression of who you are,” Pritzker said Friday. “For others, the choices are as simple as deciding what makes them the most comfortable and confident in their own skin. That should be the beginning and the end of the conversation. But for decades, Black people have too often had their natural and protective hairstyles weaponized against them.”
After signing the bill, Pritzker tweeted, “I’m proud we’re continuing to make powerful strides in transforming the culture of our schools.
The bill was passed by both the Illinois House and Senate in May, but before Pritzker signed it, it was referred back to the Senate for a name change. Now it’s known as the Jett Hawkins Law, named after a 4-year-old Chicago boy who was told he couldn’t wear his new braids at school due to the dress code.
Gus “Jett” Hawkins had his hair braided by his mother and was excited to show off his new style at Providence St. Mel school, only for the boy’s mom to get a call from school officials informing her the braids were against the school dress code.
Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said he wrote the bill after hearing Jett’s story.
“We have turned the page in Illinois so that Black youth can come to school and wear their hair in a way that honors their heritage without being traumatized by outdated and racist policies,” Simmons said in a tweet thanking Pritzker on Friday.
He also spoke out, thanking Jett’s mother, Ida Nelson, who fought back after being told her son could not wear his braids to school.
Thank you to all the Black Moms everywhere who fight racist systems everyday so that the children you love can survive. Thank you ❤️ #JettHawkinsAct pic.twitter.com/EWBvlb8vKR
— Mike Simmons (He, his, him) (@MikeSimmonsChi) August 13, 2021