This September, Jai Smith ‘22 participated in the On the Hill Legislative Summit 2021 in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Jack and Jill organization. At the conference, Jai and a group of other students had the opportunity to speak virtually to Pennsylvania State Representatives. When speaking with Rep. Brendan Boyle, the group hoped to encourage him to co-sponsor three Acts that they had researched and were advocating: the George Floyd Act, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the CROWN Act. Jai spoke about ESSA, asking legislators to reinstate the guidance on fair school discipline, and she spoke in support of the CROWN Act. The CROWN Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is designed to prohibit race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots. Rep. Brendan Boyle recently announced that he would be co-sponsoring the bill, which was very exciting for Jai. “It’s usually hard to see your work succeed, so knowing that we actually did something was really cool,” she said. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a co-sponsor of the CROWN Act, who also met with Jai and other students said, “Race-based discrimination has been happening unchecked for far too long. We need this legislation (the CROWN Act) to make it clear that discrimination based on natural hair is a form of race discrimination.”
Jai comes from a family dedicated to social justice. She joined her mother and older siblings about five years ago to become part of the Chester County Chapter of the Jack and Jill organization. Since then, she has taken on multiple leadership roles and spends most weekends participating in different group events. The organization's mission is to, “address issues affecting African American children and families, by investing in programs and services that create a strong foundation for our children to thrive long-term.” Jai is now on the Executive Board, and she helps with events that encourage financial literacy as well as hosting family days and speaker events.
“I’ve always been involved in social justice during my time at Friends’ Central, too,” said Jai. She is part of Black Student Forum, Black Affinity Group, and the Justice Core Team. She is also the leader of Black Students Connect, a group that helps black students at other local schools to connect and support each other. Jai also works closely with FCS Director of Equity, Belonging, and Inclusivity Erica Snowden. “Jai has been a great support and partner to me in ABAR and DEBI work since I began,” shared Erica. “She showed leadership immediately by welcoming me into the community and asking how she could help. She wasn’t afraid to share her experience with board members and equity council members. Jai is a serious student with a balance of fun and community.”
Jai’s favorite class at Friends’ Central is Carl Bradley’s History of African American Music. “I think that a lot of stuff that we learn in that class needs to be taught in the regular curriculum. A lot of kids in my class genuinely don’t know the racial history of music, and as a black person, I’ve known that my entire life,” she said.
Jai is also involved in the Makuu Summer Impact Program, a racial literacy program run by Dr. Brian Peterson at the University of Pennsylvania. She is applying to UPenn and hoping to continue doing that work with him in the future. As for her major, though, she is hoping to go into Sports Psychology. Jai plays soccer, lacrosse, and basketball at FCS. “It’s hard to stay mentally balanced while performing well. Having that experience as a student-athlete would help me as a Sports Psychologist, and I’m very passionate about the mental piece in sports,” she shared.
Congratulations to Jai on her accomplishments, and best of luck for the rest of the year!