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Wheeling Human Rights Commission Chairman Urges City Council To Ban Discrimination Based on Natural Hair

WHEELING — Wheeling city leaders are being urged to support a civil rights measure that in recent years has failed to pick up traction on the state level in West Virginia, but has a growing list of cities showing support — and the cause is rooted around hairstyles.

The Rev. Ralph Dunkin, chairman of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, addressed members of Wheeling City Council this week, urging city officials to pass legislation supporting the CROWN Act — a nationwide effort which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.”

“It is legal to discriminate against anyone in the workplace, in schools and pools because of their natural hair,” Dunkin said. “In other words, you can tell an employee they must cut their hair or shave their head … if they want their job.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not protect anyone against this type of discrimination, Dunkin said, noting that there have been an escalating number of cases across the country and even in the Mountain State that are prompting a call for action to deem this a violation of human rights.

“In the state of West Virginia, we had a young man who was on a basketball team, and the coach said, ‘you have dreadlocks — lose the dreadlocks, or you can’t play,'” Dunkin noted. “If you have known anyone who has dreadlocks, it takes hours to remove those curls.”

Across the nation, a push behind the CROWN Act has stemmed primarily as a means to protect Black women from being discriminated against for their hairstyles — whether the style is dreadlocks, afros, weaves, cornrows, twists or braids. The movement has since been embraced to protect students and adults of any gender, but legislation put forward generally focuses on discrimination specifically against race-based hair textures and hairstyles deemed “unprofessional or inappropriate” for any reason.

Dunkin told city leaders that City Councilwoman Rosemary Ketchum has written a proposal for new legislation that should be adopted in Wheeling.

“We’re inviting you to accept the proposal for a new ordinance,” he said. “Back in 2016, you changed the ordinance in the city around discrimination, and you worked with the Human Rights Commission. We’re asking you to change it now to include a provision for the CROWN Act.”

Over the past two years, similar proposals have been introduced but have failed to move forward out of committees in both the House and most recently last year the Senate in the West Virginia Legislature.

“It has been adopted by four other cities in the state of West Virginia: Beckley, Morgantown, Lewisburg and Charleston. We would be the fifth city,” Dunkin said. “We would be protecting primarily women of color and children of color in the workplace, in the schools and the city pools.”

Dunkin said there is a committee of women across the country and in the state of West Virginia who are trying to make a change. The CROWN Act movement has garnered support nationally from a myriad of organizations, lawmakers and even corporations like the beauty brand Dove.

“There are 13 states that have adopted such an ordinance — places like Nebraska, Illinois, California, just to name a few of those states,” Dunkin said. “It is growing.”

Part of the proposed ordinance is designed to encourage city leaders and the community as a whole to urge legislators to take action supporting this measure on the state level.

Dunkin noted that the changes Wheeling leaders made to the city’s codified ordinances addressing civil rights and discrimination issues did not specifically address this hairstyle discrimination. He said Ketchum’s proposal not only addresses this, but also addresses discrimination against traditional head coverings.

“If you pay attention to the news, a school teacher in New Jersey ripped off a hajib of a second grader,” Dunkin said. “This will also protect children from such actions. We all know the tension in our country. This will be another protection.

“When we’re talking about getting an inclusion officer — who probably might be a person of color — this would be one more thing saying to that community ‘we want you here, we want you working with us, we want to protect you,'” he added. “This could be a nice change for the city.”

Ketchum thanked Dunkin and the Human Rights Commission for taking a stand on this issue, and she encouraged her fellow council members to support it.

“This council has really stood for progress for many years since the first term of many members of this council body, and if we are to make good on the promise that we are tThe Friendly City, I think making forward progress on issues like the CROWN Act and others that may come to the table, just make sense for the city of Wheeling,” Ketchum said.

“In the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance, they talk about ‘liberty and justice for all,'” Dunkin said at the conclusion of his presentation to city council.

No example of alleged hair discrimination in the local community was mentioned during the meeting.

At the conclusion of this week’s council meeting, city resident Julia Chaplin took to the podium for the second time in two weeks and spoke against the city’s recent spending on multimillion-dollar projects.

She also spoke in opposition to the implied narrative asserting that the Friendly City is marred by an undercurrent of racial discrimination — as the proposed CROWN Act effort aims to battle.

“I am so tired of hearing that our city needs to be more inclusive,” Chaplin said, contending that Wheeling’s biggest problem stems from the “reckless spending habits” of city leaders. “We have not been known for discriminating. We are a God-fearing and God-loving community.”

The next meeting of Wheeling City Council is scheduled for noon Nov. 2.


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