COVINGTON, Ky. — It’s the first city in Kentucky to set the standard as it bans hair discrimination.
This week, the City of Covington passed what’s called the CROWN Act as part of its Human Rights Ordinance.
“Flat iron one is the big one and flat iron two is the little one,” said Michelle Williams, the woman behind the proposed legislation, as she laid out her hair tools. “Little shaky here, I don't know how it's going to turn out. I don’t know how I look right now. I’m used to having hair hanging on my face, so yeah, I’m a little nervous.”
Williams is nervous because she’s taken a courageous step to wear her natural hair.
“This is the first time that I have been on television with my natural hair out. I did not feel like it was appropriate for me to do that in a professional environment. I always felt like I had to wear my hair straight,” Williams said.
Tuesday night, Covington passed the CROWN Act in a unanimous vote.
To mark the occasion, Williams dressed her hair by wearing it in her natural style, showing her tight curls forgoing the hot iron.
“Right now I feel very exposed. I do, I do. I have not done this before so I’m exposing myself. I’m out there right now,” Williams said.
The 51-year-old is also a Commissioner for Covington. She proposed the protection about six months after a conversation that took place with another commissioner who lent her support.
“Covington moving forward yet again on a discrimination issue,” Williams said.
The CROWN act stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair.
The provision forbids race-based hair discrimination that denies employment or educational opportunities because of hair texture, hairstyles, and protective hair coverings.
The ban on hair discrimination also adds an economic development value.
“Shows that we reinforce that commitment to an inclusive community that we welcome everybody and in the economic development circles that quality of life attitude is what usually is the tipping point when they’re looking for investment,” said David Johnston, city manager for Covington.
He says legislation like this helps attract new businesses to invest.
“There are a lot of cities that are equal, it’s something like this that will tip the scales to say that’s where we want our people to work, where we want our people to live,” Johnston said.
Fortunately for Williams, she hasn’t faced discrimination.
“I personally haven’t had the experience, but I know people who have, especially black women that have been sent home from jobs because of a hairstyle that is too ethnic,” Williams said.
Across town, at Hair On The Floor Barbershop, Covington-native Antonie Killebrew shares his recent experience during a job application process in Cincinnati.
“When I got there, I did the interview and all that, maybe 15-20 minutes in, and after I did all that he said well, he said the company hadn’t updated their policy on their hair even though Cincinnati already updated it for their hair, they wouldn’t hire me because I still had the dreads,” Killebrew said.
Killebrew said he didn’t let that negative experience bring him down as he powered through and landed another job.
“Don’t let your hair define who you are, 'cause at the end of the day, it doesn’t define who you are. It’s just hair. It’s not hurting anybody at the end of the day. How does my dreads affect you?” Killebrew said.
Williams said people might now see more of her curls.
“I will do it a lot more. I’ll put it that way. I’ll slowly, gradually work my way into some cute natural hairstyles,” Williams said.
Covington is the first in the state to pass this ordinance.
Earlier this year, State Rep. Attica Scott (D, Louisville) filed a similar bill in the House. The status of the House Bill 33 remains in the Introductory stage in the Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee.