Jett Hawkins Act: Mom takes action after 4-year-old sent home over braids

CHICAGO -- Jett Hawkins was just 4 years old when he was sent home from school for having braids. Jett's mom, Ida Nelson, opens up about her fight to end hair discrimination in Illinois and across the country.

"I knew that, that was problematic to tell me that a 4-year-old's hairstyle was a violation of the code of conduct. And his hair was very well groomed," said Nelson. "And so I did not understand...well, I understood. I felt like they didn't understand the impact of the rule they were trying to enforce."

As a Black mother, Ida Nelson struggled with the decision over what to do with Jett's braids.

"I took his hair down, with him crying the entire time, which broke my heart. That really ignited the decision that we needed to fight this out. But I didn't initially start out fighting. I started out just talking and educating," she said.

Nelson informed the school of the CROWN Act, a law which prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture. CROWN originally stood for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair. The acronym has been updated to stand for Creating a Respectful and Open World with No racism.

"So far, the CROWN Coalition, in partnership with Dove, has successfully helped to spearhead legislation ending hair discrimination in 14 states. So, Illinois has not enacted the CROWN Act just yet, but the Jett Hawkins Act is inspired by the CROWN Act, so they do recognize it," she said.

The Jett Hawkins Act bans discrimination in Illinois schools for hair styles like braids, locs and twists. The law went into effect January 1, 2022.

"Senator Mike Simmons, who wears freeform locs, and when he saw Jett's story he understood and he saw himself. Which is why representation is so important, and he wanted to jump in and do his part too and help me to change this," said Nelson.

Nelson plans to keep educating others about Black hair and will continue her push to end hair discrimination worldwide.

"I attribute it to Black mothers get it done. I feel like I'm just like any other mom who would go to the ends of the earth to protect my child," said Nelson.

For more on the CROWN Coalition and ways to help end hair discrimination, visit https://www.thecrownact.com/.