ABC News’ Janai Norman’s journey to wearing her natural hair on TV

Norman, who’s sharing her natural hair journey with the hashtag #freethecurls, talks with the founders of CurlFest about natural hair and representation.
7:13 | 08/24/19

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Transcript for ABC News’ Janai Norman’s journey to wearing her natural hair on TV
Here's ABC's janai Norman. Reporter: From twists to braids, kinks to locks, a love fest as tight as their curls, this is curlfest. A one-of-a-kind celebration of all things natural hair. It's a growing movement inspiring change nationwide. One that focuses not on what it looks like but rather what it represents, making it clear that now more than ever her hair, my hair, his hair, and their hair are here to stay. The energy here is amazing. Reporter: And here, seeing is believing. Why did you feel like there was a need for this? Asking each other questions about can I show up to the interview with my hair the way that it is? Is my words going to speak louder than my beauty? Because we have to ask ourselves these questions on a daily basis. And we decided we needed a place where the answer was a res oungd yes. Gia Lowe is a part of the curly girl collective, a group of five friends passionate about honoring and celebrating natural hair. They're the founders of curlfest, a gathering meant to empower women of color now in its sixth year. For me it's a transcendent experience. For many students these changes with mean the difference between being bullied and being accepted by classmates. I want to remind everyone at home that bloom county is under a red flag warning. Interpreter: Over the past year I made the decision to wear my natural hair on air, documenting my journey with the hashtag free the curls. My story becoming a part of the conversation that we've been following for years. One surrounding the regulation of natural black hairstyles. The issue even reaching schools like this high school in Louisville, Kentucky when the dress code policy banned dreadlocks, twists, and afros longer than two inches back in 2016. It felt very personal to me because I've worn those hairstyles. Reporter: The school backed down on the policy, saying it was a misunderstanding and a lesson learned. The U.S. Navy is now allowing women to wear ponytails, free hanging braids as well as locks. Reporter: Even the military caught in the debate. The army relaxing its ban on dreadlocks and twists for women in 2017. And last year the Navy joining suit. And then this past winter this video going viral, showing new Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson being forced to cut his dreadlocks in order to a referee giving him the option. Cut his god-given hair or forfeit. The student's humiliation striking a call to action thousands of miles away for California state senator holly Mitchell. From my perspective the way he was approached by that official was really an assault, and that's when I knew that the time was right because the world now experienced what I and many black men and women who wear our hair natural have experienced, the world had witnessed it. Reporter: The video inspiring the state legislature to author and introduce the crown act, a bill focused on protecting natural hair in the workplace. To challenge common-held myths about what constitutes professionalism in the workplace. We decided that we didn't want to just draft a resolution, we wanted to actually change the sought crown act, sb188, was introduced last January and it was signed into law by the governor this past July. Reporter: For state senator Mitchell the fight is personal. I wore my hair braided during the '80s, throughout my high school experience. As a black woman who ran for public office with my hair if I hadn't been allowed to do that, how it could have potentially just impacted my own development and trajectory as a woman with confidence and with deep self-pride in terms of my ethnic herdtage. State assembly just unanimously passed a bill that protects against discrimination against employees and students based on their hairstyles. Reporter: California's crown act inspired other states to follow suit. Just last month New York passed a new law to expand the definition of race o'include hair textures. And in New Jersey a similar bill is in the works. Beyond the legal fight is a fight for representation societily. The movement is now going don't touch my hair from Solange's "Don't touch my hair" to sesame street. I wear it up, I wear it down I wear it twisted all around even films like Netflix's with the nappily ever after getting in on the action. My dad won't let me perm my hair. He says the chemicals go right to your brain. You don't need to do that. Reporter: The battle also playing out on the shelves of beauty stores. It feels so good. Reporter: At curlfest I met 28-year-old mudja eltajani, founder and CEO of natural club. How does that feel for you being here? It's beautiful. I think this festival is a long time coming. I think the natural hair movement started so long ago and now we actually have a space to be unapologetically ourselves. I haven't been really taking care of my hair -- Reporter: Back in 2012 eltagani was a junior in college growing frustrated with the lack of products available for her hair. So she began concocting natural hair products out of her dorm I just want to say welcome to my channel. Reporter: Her tutorials on YouTube made her a hit. Soon fans were reaching out asking to buy her trademark product, the homemade avocado deep conditioner. By 2015 her brand, natural club, was born. The hair industry is now thinking more kinky and other hair types. We cater to that demographic because it's been overlooked and underserved in the past. Reporter: Now elt aechlt Gani says she runs a $45 million business out of her office in Philadelphia. So in like 30 days I sold about $10,000 worth of product that didn't exist and the community just spoke really loud. They wanted something else fresh. And that's how naturall club came to be. Reporter: Her business she says growing year after year. According to a 2017 report by men's health the black hair care industry was estimated to be worth $2.54 billion. Natural hair products making up a large share of that. The founders of curlfest are appreciative of the moment natural hair is having. It's an affirmation of what we're doing. The whole country's watching. And when you have issues like that with the whole country outside of this community is watching then they start paying attention. Reporter: Monumental steps in the right direction that will have a lasting impact on future So now for young girls to be attending curlfest and sporting

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