Note: Karla Arroyo is the Inaugural Fellow of the CROWN Campaign.
Race-based hair discrimination is still prevalent today, especially in workplaces and schools. The CROWN Act, a law currently available in seven states and nine municipalities, protects Black people from hair discrimination in these environments.
LaShawn Hill, natural hair salon owner, and stylist at Natural Elements in Homewood, Alabama, learned about the legislation and the CROWN Campaign after a commercial during the 2020 BET Awards.
Hill reached out to the CROWN Campaign shortly after the commercial to inquire about how she can lead efforts in Birmingham, AL. For reference, Alabama (nor any of its cities) does not yet employ the CROWN Act.
The co-founders of the CROWN Campaign, Dr. Bernice B. Rumala and Shemekka Ebony, MS, gave LaShawn the most important tool she needed: a voice in Alabama.
Taking the CROWN Campaign to Alabama
Hill joined the CROWN Campaign in July 2020 as their Alabama state leader. Later that month, she was the recipient of the CROWN Campaign’s Community Leader Award.
“LaShawn Hill has been a forward thinking visionary in terms of her leadership. She hit the ground running from the first day she joined the CROWN Campaign in summer 2020,” said Dr. Rumala.
In this role, LaShawn mobilizes, supports, advocates for and networks with people with lived experiences of hair discrimination. Hill is an exemplary change agent; she addresses the root of the problem, too.
“Dr. Bernice Rumala has instilled a pride in me that’s made me want to do my part in Birmingham,” said LaShawn.
Hill worked alongside Birmingham District 6 Councilor Crystal Smitherman, Esq’s law firm, Smitherman Law Firm, to pass this resolution. In its early stages, LaShawn googled African American mayors in Alabama and looked for something they both had in common: natural hair.
This allowed Hill to make her case on how natural hair and its relationship with discrimination affects Black and brown people heavily.
“She was able to mobilize community and get the first resolution passed in two weeks for Birmingham which was the first for the state of Alabama,” said Dr. Rumala.
“She is the epitome of the CROWN Campaign principles. One of which is that even one person can serve as the catalyst for change in the community as part of the village,” Dr. Rumala added.
LaShawn’s drive for change did not end in Birmingham, however. Hill led another grassroots effort resulting in a second CROWN resolution in Center Point, AL on December 28, 2020. This effort was completed alongside Mayor Bobby Scott, Council President D.M. Collins, and others.
“I believe in making changes with people that are ready to change,” said LaShawn in her talk as an invited distinguished speaker at the People with Lived Experience Institute Conference. “So, we thank the city of Center Point for supporting our grassroots organization…this is just another step in our goal that we’re trying to achieve,” she added.
In the video, LaShawn highlights her efforts as a community organizer and her support in leading two resolutions. While Hill’s efforts are highly distinguishable, she was initially a person who worked behind the scenes.
“I like to kind of work in the background and get things organized and push other people. But, one thing the CROWN Campaign has instilled in me is leadership–knowing how important one person can be to make a difference and a change in their community,” says LaShawn Hill in her presentation.
To the root
When LaShawn isn’t attending city council meetings, she is running her salon. Founded in 1999, Hill’s family business set the tone for natural hair in Alabama. Natural Elements serves all types of clients and hair types, even those who are undergoing chemotherapy or alopecia.
The connection between LaShawn’s business and policy is clear. She has lived experiences of discrimination and therefore, understands it. LaShawn launches change in two ways: aesthetically and legislatively.
“This affects my livelihood and my client’s self-esteem,” says LaShawn. “When people sit in my chair, it’s not about hair. It’s about what drove them to the shop and what’s going on in their lives,” LaShawn continued.
Hill asks every client what city they are from then tells them to study their legislators and vote for them. Usually, she steers away from politics but stresses the importance of knowing who is creating laws.
LaShawn dubs herself a “natural networker”. She says when you’re passionate about something, you’re not working, you’re doing.
New year, more resolutions
LaShawn is already planning her next steps. She is currently targeting eight Black-dominated communities in Alabama (one being Montgomery) for more city council resolutions. Hill already completed resolutions in two cities out of her personal goal list of 10 in Alabama.
LaShawn says she has letters and emails set to be sent out to target cities. “I’m pretty much on track,” said Hill.
She recently met with senator Rodger Smitherman to speak about the next city council resolutions. Ultimately, Hill’s goal is to get one passed in the state of Alabama.
“Leaders like LaShawn educate communities about how legal protections like the CROWN Act can benefit marginalized people in Alabama,” said CROWN Campaign co-founder Shemekka Ebony, MS.
To learn more about LaShawn’s efforts in Alabama, watch her conversation with CROWN Campaign Director of Research, Dr. Manka Nkimbeng here.