An organization that will receive $200,000 from the National Football League came under fire this week for photos of its founder cutting young men’s dreadlocks, sparking a campaign where people shared celebratory pictures of their locs.
“I did not think about the ramifications," Hazelgrove told The Washington Post on Friday. “I can understand how I could be interpreted as insensitive, but that certainly was not our intention. I was trying to support his decision.”
To some African Americans, the choice to style their hair in locs is a way of owning their cultural heritage, especially as it stands apart from traditionally European hairstyles. As The Washington Post’s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel previously reported:
Few things in African American culture are more politicized than hair. Whether it’s chemically straightened, attached to a synthetic mane or left in its natural state, our hair takes on all sorts of meaning, often without intention. Much of this is rooted in the outsider status of our hair in a society that deems European standards of beauty inherently more valuable than any others.
Hazelgrove on Friday said two of the young men that participate in Crushers’ leadership, boxing and music programs asked her a few years ago to cut their hair. One had been involved in gang activity and crime, she said, and “wanted to change his life.”
One of the individuals in the photos, whose first name is Kobe, confirmed Hazelgrove’s story in a short video posted Friday.
“Cut my head like three years ago. That was something I wanted to do,” he said. “Because I was tired of it. Tired of gang banging, tired of messing up. Now I’m a changed young man, trying to see bigger and better dreams.”
He had volunteered to speak out after he heard about the backlash, Hazelgrove said.
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay responded to the hair-cutting photos by asking her Twitter followers to celebrate the beauty of their locs by sharing pictures of them with the hashtag #loclife.
Let’s replace those images of a Trump supporter gleefully cutting a young black man’s locs to give him a “better life”... with the beauty and majesty of life with locs. If you adorn yourself with natural locs, share your pictures with the hashtag #loclife. I’ll start. xo pic.twitter.com/IAw0zjfwWN— Ava DuVernay (@ava) September 6, 2019
Twitter users jumped at the chance to express their fondness for their locs. Here are some of the pictures the #loclife campaign inspired.
I've experienced hair discrimination at work, so waited to loc my hair until I had positions with some autonomy. Currently I'm an Executive Director of an HIV/AIDS non-profit and a doctoral student. My hair is both an aesthetic choice and spiritually meaningful to me. #loclife pic.twitter.com/4wUAh65KOA— Ruth Cameron (@pruthcameron) September 6, 2019
Crushers Club, an anti-gang organization founded in 2013, will receive a donation from the NFL’s “Inspire Change” program aimed at reducing barriers to opportunity. The league is partnering on the program with Roc Nation, the entertainment company of rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z.
The NFL and Roc Nation did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the league’s donation.
The images of a white woman cutting young black men’s hair echoed an incident last year when a 16-year-old wrestler in New Jersey was forced to cut his dreadlocks before a match or forfeit. Critics saw the ultimatum as an instance of racial bias.