DENVER — Getting her hair washed and done professionally is a treat for 13-year-old Bella Lockheart.
But she says it's not always easy to find professionals to work on her natural hair. Today she's at Naturalista Botanic Hair Salon run by Awar Ajuaj.
"Black hair is different than everybody else's hair. Our hair is a lot more tightly coiled, it's more susceptible to being dry and breaking, it's really fragile so it's really hard to maintain for a lot of people," said Ajuaj.
Finding someone who can work with their hair isn't the only challenge for those with natural hair.
"I definitely do have memories, just moments in time where my hair was the center of attention and the topic of discussion and it was very uncomfortable," said Ajuaj.
Many with natural hair say they face harassment from classmates and coworkers and even risk losing their jobs or other consequences.
"Discriminatory actions are having an ultimatum, basically. Either you want your job or you're going to change your hair," said Analise Harris, the founder of Curls on the Block, a program that focuses on boosting the self-confidence of young Black women by educating them about natural hair and teaching them to love their hair.
She also is an advocate of the CROWN Act.
"The CROWN Act, what that stands for is Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair," said Harris.
The CROWN Act is legislation that creates protections against discrimination for people with natural hair. Versions of the law have been passed in 14 states and right now a federal version is moving through Congress in Washington, D.C.
"If you qualified, made the income and have even good recommendations, people have had instances where they have felt and could possibly have proven. 'Hey, I feel like I was discriminated against because I was Black' and part of that is, how they showed up," said Harris.
The CROWN Act would provide protections against housing and other forms of discrimination. Legal experts think this law might make it harder for landlords to use discriminatory practices.
"'Well I don't want people with dreadlocks in my apartment complex because I have some sort of notions of what that means or cleanliness', right? These sort of stereotypical ideas about certain hairstyles. So it's possible that a court might say well this wasn't discrimination on the basis of race, this was discrimination on the basis of hairstyle," said law professor Sarah Schindler.
She says hair could be a loophole for some landlords to discriminate against tenants.
"I think it's often hairstyle can be used as a proxy for race and so it's another way that the landlords might be getting around the existing laws, by relying on hairstyle instead of race," said Schindler.
The hope is the CROWN Act would mean one less way to discriminate against people.
As those barriers fall, Ajuaj wants to keep doing her job, helping people with natural hair feel beautiful with the hair they have.
"I've had people tell me some very heartwarming things whenever I tell someone, oh my gosh your hair is so beautiful. I've had someone tell me, nobody has ever told me that before," she said.