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Happy Crown Day

If you have followed this blog for the last nine years, you know that I often post about my daughter’s hair, and making sure that my daughter feels comfortable showing up in any space as her FULL self, hair included. I am looking forward to a future in which when it is time for her to enter rooms where she may not be in the majority, people consider what is inside of her head before they judge what is on top of it. But today, hair matters, and fuels discriminatory behaviors and policies based on race.

Related: Bold and Bright Doesn’t Have to Be White

The CROWN Act was created in 2019 to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools. It is the official campaign of The CROWN Act Led by the CROWN Coalition, founded by Dove, National Urban League, Color Of Change, and Western Center of Law & Poverty.

The Crown Act Website

Related: Do So No Like So: Inspiring My Daughter to Love Her Hair

Since she’s been homeschooled most of her life, we haven’t had to worry about issues in public school. She just started public school this year and rolled into the first day of school with her favorite braids – no issues.

As a Youtube Vlogger, she has had a great time trying out new hairstyles and showing them off for her audience.

Unfortunately, as we move into spaces that are less protected by community and culture, she has had to give some consideration to how other’s would react to her hair.

In February, my daughter decided to compete in the Miss Chicago’s Outstanding Teen Competition. It is part of the Miss America system, and they have been making a lot of changes to embrace diversity and challenge the old pageant norms. Still, knowing the history of pageants, I was concerned that she would feel pressure to present a more Euro-centric image. She had never watched a pageant before she entered, but she did she photos of Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, and based on that she jumped in with both feet and applied.

Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa
Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa

She had never competed, so we had zero expectations. When you go in with no expectations (and a bit of ignorance), you have a freedom that can’t be explained. She watched videos of the previous Miss Chicago’s Outstanding Teen who was the first Black young lady to win. She is keenly aware of the spaces that are alloted for black women, and also figured, there was no way that she could win – there had JUST been a Black winner. So she went in with the intentions of meeting great people, and trying something new.

Of course, her hair – to us – was even more important than the dress, shoes, and jewelry. Black women often start with hair first, and move on from there.

I asked her what she wanted, pageant queen or African queen? She grinned. “African Queen.”

I asked her what she wanted, pageant queen or African queen? She grinned. “African Queen.” I was so excited. We decided to go with a braided updo with glorious braided extensions. Why make it crown friendly? The goal was to have fun and look FABULOUS doing it, not win. More. Hair. Please. Thank you.

Eden Wilson being crowned Miss Chicago's Outstanding Teen 2020
And then this happened. We weren’t ready to put a crown over all of the braids, but they made it work.

When they said, “Miss Chicago’s Outstanding Teen is….. Eden Wilson,” all I could say was “WHAT?” over and over. I get choked up thinking about it even now. I had lost so much faith in people, that I believed that showing up as your full self was reason enough to not expect the win. I wondered if Eden felt my doubt. She won the Entrepreneurship award, the People’s Choice Award, the Miracle Maker Award, and the Interview Award. We were content. We figured that plaques and certificates were enough. It is embarrassing to admit, but I am human. I have experienced so much bias, I just figured – par for the course. But they SAW her. They called her name.

Photo of Eden Wilson and Imani Muse, Miss Chicago's Outsanding Teens for 2020 and 2019
The first Black Miss Chicago’s Outstanding Teen and the first Black Miss Illinois Outstanding Teen, Imani Muse, crowned the second Black Miss Chicago’s Outstanding Teen.

Seeing Imani wearing her braids, crowning Eden who was wearing braids also was a little surreal. It seems like a small thing, but this accomplishment is not lost on Black women.

Photo of Eden Wilson and Imani Muse, Miss Chicago's Outsanding Teens for 2020 and 2019

When the time came for her official photos, I was so nervous. I saw that hair and makeup was included in her photoshoot, and I hesitated to ask – could we handle the hair? I wasn’t sure if she was going to have to have straight hair to move to the next level – this is another thought that black women have had to consider when moving up in their careers. She was only 13 at the time, and I wasn’t ready to have this conversation.

After a series of discussions with the directors and the photographer, it was unanimous – with no hesitations – they wanted Eden to feel like herself and be herself… braids and all.

Eden Wilson getting her makeup done for her official photos
Photo of Eden Wilson by David Wilson of @shotindc

We had driven hours to get to the photo studio in Iowa. I put in her hair, they did her makeup, and the rest is history.

Eden Wilson posing for her official photos

Needless to say – they didn’t need the fan.

The Crown Act has been passed in seven states. We have 43 more to go. Let’s make this country a place where Black girls and women feel free to show up as their full selves without discrimination based on how they choose to style their hair.

For more information on The CROWN Act, visit https://www.thecrownact.com/about.

You can also follow the conversation on Twitter. Follow @thecrownact.

Eden Wilson's official photo as Miss Chicago's Outstanding Teen
Official photo by FELS Photo.

You can follow Eden on Facebook HERE and HERE and on Instagram HERE and HERE.

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