Anti-gang organisation funded by NFL criticised for cutting off boys’ dreadlocks

'It's symbolic of change and their desire for a better life!' 

Marisa Iati
Saturday 07 September 2019 13:58 BST
Teenager defends Crusher Club for cutting his dreadlocks

An anti-gang organisation that will receive $200,000 (£163,000) from the National Football League (NFL) has come under fire for photos of its founder cutting off young men’s dreadlocks.

It has now sparked a campaign where people are sharing celebratory pictures of their locs.

Twitter users criticised the Chicago-based Crushers Club for now-deleted photos shared in 2016 of its founder and executive director Sally Hazelgrove, a white woman, cutting off two black men’s locs.

Twitter user @RzstProgramming, who posted the pictures, called the hair-cutting “troubling”.

The caption on one of the photos said: ”And another Crusher let me cut his dreads off! It’s symbolic of change and their desire for a better life!”

“I did not think about the ramifications,” Ms Hazelgrove told The Washington Post on Friday.

“I can understood 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 politicised 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.”

Ms Hazelgrove said on Friday that two of the young men that participate in Crushers’ leadership, boxing and music programmes 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 Ms 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, Ms 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.

Crushers Club, an anti-gang organisation founded in 2013, will receive a donation from the NFL’s Inspire Change programme aimed at reducing barriers to opportunity.

The league is partnering on the programme 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.

The Washington Post

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