Highlighting the beauty of natural hair at Hillside High in Durham

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- In the auditorium at Durham's Hillside High School on Monday night, a dose of overdue affirmation of the beauty of the "crowns" adorning the heads of the audience of mostly Black women. There were women in dreadlocks, jumbo braids, micro braids, twists and curls.

Kayla Beckett wore a hat but still remembers the day as a young girl and aspiring lawyer that her father told her dreadlocks would be a career roadblock.

"My dad was like 'You shouldn't get locs if you wanna become a lawyer,'" Beckett recalled. "It really hurt me to my core because I really wanted to embrace my culture."

Monday's event, sponsored by the Office of Equity Affairs at Durham Public Schools aimed at doing away with those old assumptions.

"I am thankful that I can serve on our board and wear my natural hair," rejoiced Bettina Umstead, chair of the Durham Public School Board.

And with her colored locs, the first Black woman elected mayor of Durham, Elaine O'Neal, led this crowd in a call and response to build a love of self and love of their hair.

Monday night was the main event of Crown Act Week at Durham Public Schools. A recognition of the national campaign to raise awareness and change laws and policy on hair discrimination in schools and workplaces.

Durham Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Democrat, sponsored legislation to adopt the Crown Act statewide.

"I think through the Crown Act, folks have been educated as to what it is that women of color, especially Black women go through every single day," Murdock told the audience.

The discussion centered around expanding narrow beauty standards that make it hard for women to celebrate their own beauty freely and relieving pressure on Black women to conform to Eurocentric styles to be considered professional.

It hit home for Nicole Pyles, last spring when the Hillside High softball player was humiliated on the field when an umpire said her braids were too long; that her braided beads had to be removed.

"I'm proud that I have this kind of hair. But I realize that having hair does really tear you down sometimes whether you want to admit it or not," Pyles said while sharing her hair journey.

After the incident with Pyles made national news, North Carolina's high school sports governing body amended its rules regarding hairstyles.

Meanwhile, the Crown Act has passed in Greensboro, Raleigh and Durham. But, still, no state law.
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