CHICAGO — A planned donation from the NFL has shined a negative spotlight on a local community group.
The Crushers Club in Englewood is one of two Chicago organizations selected to receive a $200,000 grant through the NFL’s Inspire Change social justice initiative.
Twitter user “Resist Programming” uncovered past posts from the organization, including a September 2016 tweet that shows the founder Sally Hazelgrove cutting the locs from a teen’s hair.
“It’s a family thing,” the tweet said. “We box mentor make music & I get to cut hair. He’s freaking out but looks so cute!”
A tweet posted a month later said, “And another crusher let me cut his dreads off! It’s symbolic of change and their desire for a better life.”
Hazelgrove apologized Friday for being insensitive and said she wants to make it clear the program has no policy about hairstyles.
“It was not about locs or about their image,” said Hazelgrove.
“I have biracial children myself. To accuse me of being racist is just inaccurate and I have nothing but love for me inside for these boys and these young men and I’ve been out here for two decades working hard to change their lives.”
“It’s an expression of who I am,” said David Stovall, a professor of African American Studies and Criminology, Law and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Are we asking the larger question around how this person is actually seeing those black youths they are working with? We are always viewed, as black people, as something to be changed or fixed.”
The backlash comes as Jay Z’s Roc Nation has come under fire for partnering with the NFL for live music entertainment and the social justice initiative, even though the league has faced accusations of blackballing Colin Kaepernick following his protests over police brutality.
In response to the controversy, Crushers Club posted video from one of the young men in the viral posts. Hazelgrove says he is a shooting survivor who asked her to cut his hair.
“I cut my hair like 3 years ago. That’s something I wanted to do because I was tired of it. Tired of gang-banging. Tired of messing up,” said Kobe. “Now I’m a changed young man.”
Message from Kobe pic.twitter.com/3CdH28pCUE
— crushersclub (@crushersclub) September 6, 2019
Hazelgrove is also being criticized for a tweet that referenced “All Lives Matter” and another asking for President Trump’s help in Chicago.
Celebrities took to Twitter under the hashtag #loclife to challenge stereotypes about people with dreadlocks.
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
Last year, video of a New Jersey high school wrestler went viral after he was forced to cut his dreadlocks to avoid forfeiting a match.
The NFL has not responded to WGN-TV’s request for comment. But Hazelgrove says she was told on Friday her organization will still receive the donation.