“That’s family...she was there when nobody wasn’t,” said Crushers Club member and mentor Kobe Richardson to BET on Monday (September 9).
“She” is Sally Hazelgrove, the youth organization’s founder and president (a White woman), who has recently come under fire for what some deem to be culturally insensitive tweets regarding Black people, hair and respectability politics.
Hazelgrove’s Crushers Club is set to receive a $200,000 donation from Inspire Change - the NFL/Roc Nation partnership - and it was that donation from an alliance, widely seen as dubious, that led to the unearthing of the club’s social media history.
The tweets were posted three years ago and show Hazelgrove cutting off Richardson’s locs with the caption, “And another Crusher let me cut his dreads off! It's symbolic of change and their desire for a better life!”
Once unearthed, the tweets sparked outrage among many Black people on Twitter. Including filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who started a Twitter campaign promoting the “beauty and majesty of life with locs” #loclife.
The image was triggering for many, calling to mind the more recent cases of Black people’s hair being “policed” in the workplace and in athletic competitions. It brought up all the daily microaggressions felt by so many on a seemingly daily basis.
But that wasn’t Richardson’s reality.
“No. [I didn’t believe cutting my dreads would give me a better life.] That was something I wanted to do. I didn’t look at dreads as a [cultural] statement. It was a popular hairstyle back then in the rap industry, and I just wanted to wear it like everybody else. I was tired of the dreads and wanted a different look. I came to her and asked her to cut them for me because I didn't have any money to go to the barber. The whole reason there was a picture is because I asked if I could get a picture of me one last time with the dreads, so I can have a memory.”
Still, Richardson understands how people could look at the picture and have an issue.
“I do. The way the picture looks to some people on the outside looking in, it’s iffy. And the wording...she could’ve chose her words more carefully. But I wouldn’t take it back. I’d do it all over again and let her cut it again.”
The image of Hazelgrove cutting Richardson’s hair also gives credence to the “White savior” character trope. The idea of a white person who acts to help non-white people, with the help often being perceived as self-serving. This is common in film and television and within popular culture. It is a particular sticking point among many Black people, because it depicts us as less than fully capable or self sufficient.
However Richardson’s life, and the lives of many of the Crushers Club’s members, are not plots from movies or television series. There are real stakes, and he doesn’t have the time or inclination to be concerned with who perceives how he’s getting help.
Richardson is a former gang member and self described as a very “hard headed” child and someone who didn’t want to listen.
He grew up raised by a single mom and joined a gang at a young age looking for acceptance and a sense of belonging.
He was shot 14 times and nearly lost his life before realizing things had to change. One of the first people by his side in the hospital when he awoke from his coma was Hazelgrove.
Elizabeth Talbert, the mother of a Crushers Club member named Elijah, sees the criticism as narrow minded. She told BET:
“What they’re looking at is, it’s a White woman. A White woman doing right by mostly Black kids. But they’re not looking at the whole picture. There are people in the neighborhood who have been there for 30 years, and never took the time out to help. But she’s been there.”
Critics would point to systematic issues of racism and economics that make it nearly impossible for poor communities to change from the inside out with no assistance, and that argument would certainly have merit. It is these issues, largely created by White people and supremacy, that in turn manifest the need for a “White savior.”
While working towards larger change and toppling white supremacy and ending systems of oppression are always the goal, people like Richardson have immediate concerns. There needs to be a way in which we address both, simultaneously.
The partnership between Inspire Change and the Crushers Club will move on as planned and there will be more eyes on them and Hazelgrove, and Richardson knows people will be watching.
“Sally has built a bond with us. She wants to create more opportunities for us. People in Englewood come around and partner with her to offer jobs to members of the club. Her intentions are pure and she loves us.”
It’s hard to argue with Richardson. He’s faced real trauma and tragedy, and his life has been greatly impacted by Hazelgrove for the better. Some might say this makes him an “unreliable” narrator. Still, it makes him human.
Nothing is real unless it happens to you. It’s easy to critique and pass judgment from miles away.
For Richardson, his trauma and his day-to-day is the realest of the real. He has a unique way of cutting through the infinite color noise in the rainbow and making things simple.
“It doesn’t matter who. If I’m homeless and need help, I have no choice, I’m in need.”
(Photo: jazzmxx/ Getty Images)