by Sandra Hinds
Each of you should summon up the courage of a lion king and never succumb to threats from anyone. The lion king fears no other beast, nor do its cubs. Slanderers are like barking foxes, but Nichiren’s followers are like roaring lions. (“On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 997)
After five years of working in a government facility, in 2018, I was threatened with disciplinary action for my dreadlocks. I was told to either cut my hair, pin it up or be written up. I learned that dreadlocks below shoulder length violated the dress code, which I felt was inherently racist. African American employees could not freely have their hair in its natural state, while other workers wore their hair as they chose.
Disciplinary action would negatively impact my opportunities for promotions and raises, as it would reflect on my annual review. But I knew I had to speak up, so I began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that this unjust regulation would be removed.
Taking on a government bureaucracy was a tedious battle. I contacted upper management, but even after our discussion, they could not validate why this policy existed. The next day, I sent them an email suggesting a revised regulation: “All hair should be worn neat and professional.” Weeks and months went by, and nothing changed.
In the meantime, I was forced to wrap my hair each day. Not only was it laborious but also painful; the tightness and weight of the hair on my scalp caused severe headaches.
After getting guidance from a senior in faith, I chanted to reach the Buddha nature of the commissioners who had the final say, and that they would realize how discriminatory the regulation was.
I often went back to Ikeda Sensei’s guidance: “Those who fail to fight against the devilish nature of authority fall victim to it themselves” (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, p. 187).
I sought an attorney, who attempted to contact the commissioners but to no avail. Each day, after reciting gongyo, I would study Nichiren Daishonin’s words: “Summon the courage of the lion king and never succumb to threats from anyone” (“On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 997). This passage gave me strength and conviction, especially when I became the target of retaliation, as I was denied participation in a training seminar to enhance my career.
Through my Buddhist practice, I knew that this was not the time to give up but to fight even harder. I participated in as many SGI activities as possible and introduced lots of people to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Eventually, 2019 gave way to 2020, with no apparent movement at work. I even began speaking with local lawmakers about the need to ban hair discrimination against African Americans.
I chanted to the Gohonzon with the specific prayer This regulation must be removed for the sake of justice and equality! I then decided to file a grievance. On July 13, just before I submitted it, all employees received an email from the legal division regarding a new dress code. The section regarding dreadlocks had been removed and was replaced with my exact suggestion that all hair should be worn neat and professional. Two years and four months of pinning my hair up and going home with a headache had finally ended.
Many employees had been fearful of challenging management, but my Buddhist practice gave me the courage to fight for justice and the happiness of others.
With powerful prayer based on our vow for kosen-rufu, we will always win.