CHICAGO (CBS) — A 4-year-old boy is about to change a law in Illinois. His school would not allow him to wear braids, so his mom wanted the world to know, and that appears to have worked.
Dreadlocks, cornrows and braids are traditionally Black hairstyles that have often been restricted in schools and workplaces.
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Gus Hawkins’ is his full name, but he goes by “Jett.” He and his mom could also be called trailblazers. He is the face and name behind the Jett Hawkins Act.
The journey started at home.
“I said, ‘Okay, how do you want your hair?’” said Jett’s mother Ida Nelson. “He said, ‘I want it in brads.’ He was so happy, so excited to go and show his friends.’”
But excitement turned to devastation.
“I get a phone call from administration that his hair was a violation of school dress code, and I was like, ‘What? He’s four years old,’” Nelson said.
And that devastation turned to anger as Nelson said she was told by Providence St. Mel, a predominantly Black private school on Chicago’s West Side, that the law was on the school’s side.
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“I told him, ‘I’m just going to take it to the court of public opinion,’” she said. “I said, ‘I’m going to get the law changed on your a**.’”
And public opinion was swift.
“When I saw a 4-year-old child had been traumatized like this in a school setting, it just infuriated me, and I said, ‘Alright, I’m a state senator now. I got a responsibility to act on it,’” said new state Sen. Mike Simmons (D-7th).
And so the Jett Hawkins Act was born. Sponsored by Simmons, the bill will make it illegal for any school, public or private, to ban hairstyles like Jett’s.
“I wear my hair how I want to wear it,” Simmons said. “I want that exact same thing for kids in schools. A bill like this is ground zero.”
In a sign of the ties, the bill passed the Illinois House with flying colors — 89-22.
“I was thrilled. The overwhelming majority of the assembly got it. It made me really proud to be an Illinoisan,” Nelson said.
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The senate is expected to approve a minor change before it heads to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk for the signature that makes it all official.