© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley Is Fighting For Your Right To Natural Hair

012221_provivded_npr_dresscode
Mai Ly Degnan
/
NPR
Rep. LaKeySha Bosley says that educational settings have been a particular problem for hair discrimination.

There is a growing national movement to ban discrimination on the basis of hair texture and styles common to Black people and other people of color. At least seven states have now passed laws making it illegal to discriminate against people because of their hair.

In Missouri, Rep. LaKeySha Bosley reintroduced the CROWN Act to the House floor last month, while Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard proposed similar legislation in St. Louis yesterday. The acronym stands for “Creating a respectful and open world for natural hair.”

Bosley said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air that educational settings have been a particular problem. High-profile cases in which students faced discipline for their hair include 11-year-old Faith Fennidy, who was sent home from school for wearing braids in Louisiana, and New Jersey wrestler Andrew Johnson, 16, who was forced to cut his locs or forfeit his match. DeAndre Arnold in Texas wasn’t allowed to attend his high school graduation ceremony unless he cut off his locs to comply with the school’s dress code. In 2016, Chastity Jones sued a company that rescinded her job offer because she refused to cut off her locs (she lost).

“When we have these types of situations happen, you're pretty much demonizing people for just being who they are naturally, just being them and representing their culture, or just putting their hair in whatever way they want to,” Bosley said.

The matter hits close to home for Bosley. She grew up straightening her hair and smoothing out its texture to fit into what she felt was accepted as neat and professional.

The practice followed her to her campaigning days.

“I was always told that I needed to look more presentable, [that] I needed to do something with my hair,” she recalled. “One of the most memorable moments during my campaign was when I just got hot. I had on a wig, I tried to conform. I had on a wig and I snatched the wig off as I was campaigning. As I was knocking doors, I snatched the wig off because I just could not do it.”

Hairstyles such as braids, afros, curls, twists and locs hold deep cultural significance in the Black community, she said.

“You're coming at the core of many women and men who have been this way for thousands of years and so forth. … If we go back to African culture, braids were symbols of a higher statute in certain patterns. If they were braided in a woven pattern, [that] showed the landscape of how the land was so that you'll know where your home was, or where a certain tribe was,” she explained.

“There is more of a history and an appreciation for being a natural-haired woman — or just being who you want to be period — without having to have someone tell you that what you believe in is not important enough.”

The measure passed in the Missouri House last year, but the Senate failed to vote on it. Bosley is optimistic about the bill moving forward this year, even though that means starting from scratch in the House.

“It's easy for someone to say it's not vetted, but it is vetted because it passed through this entire body once before,” she said.

Political origins

Entering the political realm might have seemed like a natural progression for Bosley. After all, the St. Louis Democrat is related to some of the city’s most notable political figures.

Her father, Freeman Bosley Sr., served on the Board of Aldermen. Her brother, Freeman Bosley Jr., was elected St. Louis’ first African American mayor in 1993. Another brother, Brandon Bosley, is the alderman for St. Louis’ 3rd Ward. And her mother, Lucinda Frazier, is a longtime Democratic committeewoman.

But all that family heritage initially had the opposite effect.

“I was one of the people beforehand who felt a way about the government, who didn't want to participate in it. I was a part of that millennial clique,” the 28-year-old said.

That changed during her first year in college.

“Constantly hearing my peers tell me that they didn't think that the system was valid, [that] it didn't work for us, it made me feel a way [like] I had to run for office,” she said. “I felt an obligation because I knew how the system worked [and] I wanted to show them that we have our backs, like, we are still here, our voices matter.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Stay Connected
Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.