In a unanimous 5-0 decision, the Lawrence City Commission adopted the CROWN Act, marking a significant commitment to expand opportunities for Black residents and other communities of color affected by racial discrimination tied to hair styles and textures.
The CROWN Act, which stands for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, addresses gaps in existing laws designed to prevent racial discrimination. The act specifically includes characteristics like hairstyles and facial features, aiming to ensure inclusivity in the workforce and bolster Kansas’ economy.
“Lawrence’s bold position against hair-based racial discrimination is a game-changer for Kansas,” said Stacey B. Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission. “For a Black woman like me in Kansas, this is deeply personal and reflects a positive shift in our state’s core values.”
The effort to get the law passed was a collaborative effort that included members of Lawrence’s Black community and Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a Kansas City-based nonprofit dedicated to amplifying the voices and power of Black women through education and advocacy.
Also leading the charge was Lawrence City Commissioner Amber Sellers, the first Black woman elected to the commission, who introduced the bill.
Sellers shared how she struggled with her hair identity.
“That traumatized me for most of my adult life until 2014, when I decided enough was enough and I cut all my hair off,” said Sellers at a press conference held ahead of the vote. “I learned what it felt like to be natural and to experiment and to have joy.”
It’s that same joy that she hopes passage of the CROWN Act will provide members of Lawrence’s African-American community.
“We are creating a space of joy, of opportunity, a mental, physical and economic safe space. We’re creating an opportunity for black women, men and children to see themselves accepted, welcomed and encouraged to be a part of and engaged in their community,” Sellers continued.
She also expressed how pleased she was to see the community engaged in the process.
“We saw our community come out and share their concerns with their commission and to see that process of engagement and discussion come to fruition.”
Shirley’s KC, alongside state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D-Wichita) has championed the CROWN Act at the state level. Despite being introduced several years in a row, the Kansas Legislature has failed to adopt CROWN Act legislation.
The City of Kansas City, MO, adopted the CROWN Act in 2023. The State of Missouri also has not passed a CROWN Act Bill.
A second reading and vote on the Lawrence CROWN Act legislation is required and will take place on Aug. 22.