Mother of Woodrow Wilson athlete benched over hairstyle inspires anti-discrimination bill

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – We first met Tarsha Bolt back in December as she spoke out against what she felt was discrimination. Her son was benched on the Woodrow Wilson High School basketball team because of his dreadlocks.

The head coach asks everyone to keep a “neat” haircut, so her son took his hair out so he could play. However, the story does not end there.

A bill has now been introduced to the West Virginia House of Delegates that would make discrimination based on hair texture or style illegal. 

Since December, Tarsha Bolt has been on a mission. It started with a Facebook post where she asked for thoughts about the incident. 

“And that’s when everybody just started saying, ‘Well me too. And me too. And me too. And that happened to me,’ so I think it’s like I’ve just been assigned this task but it’s everybody’s issue,” Bolt said. 

Now, House Bill 4508 has been introduced which has the backing of West Virginia Race Matters, West Virginia Cares, West Virginia NAACP, the West Virginia ACLU, and Our Children, Our Future.

It was introduced by Delegate Danielle Walker from Monongalia County who has experienced hair discrimination herself and after she found out about Bolt and her son’s story, she wanted to create the legislation. 

“I don’t introduce any self-serving bills, but I definitely want to be a voice for this young man and other young people and professionals and just all West Virginians,” Del. Walker said. “How do you get to discriminate against someone’s hair? I don’t think this is a racial thing. It should be a cultural thing.” 

Currently, the bill’s wording has race within it, but Del. walker says that will soon change to culture with an amendment to keep it more open and inclusive.

While the bill is awaiting to be put on an agenda, Bolt has joined the Beckley Human Rights Commission, has spoken at school board meetings and continued her research, all proving to her that this issue goes beyond her son. 

“This is happening all across West Virginia. One of the most recent sponsors of our movement is the Crown Coalition which is co-founded by the Dove Organization and they’ve passed legislation in the state of California, New York, New Jersey. If you go to their website, they have more states that are starting to create similar bills, so West Virginia has the opportunity to be a pioneer right now,” Bolt said. 

Of course Bolt wants the bill to be taken up soon but if it is not, she says the fight will continue until it is. 

“We’re making progress, just one issue at a time, one human rights issue at a time.”

The bill has been assigned to the Committee on Government Organization.

You can read it here. 


ORIGINAL STORY: December 18, 2019

Please note: Tarsha’s last name changed in the period of time between the two stories.

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – A Facebook post caught the attention of us and so many others as the mother of a Woodrow Wilson High School basketball player posted that her son was told he wouldn’t be able to play unless he cut his dreadlocks off or took them out.  

Freshman Matthew Moore’s first time playing basketball on a team isn’t going the way he planned. At the beginning of the season, he signed a contract, like every basketball player at Woodrow Wilson, saying he would keep his hair “neat.” He thought that having his hair in braids and put up out of his face was neat. However, that was not the case in the eyes of Head Coach Ron Kidd. 

According to Moore, he was told at practice his dreadlocks were not acceptable. At the time, he was not sure he could take them out, but then it came time for the first game. 

“My first game, I went out, and he told me I had to go back in the locker room. I couldn’t play, and I got undressed, and I just sat on the bench that game,” Moore said. 

He sat the bench the next game, and that’s when his mother Tarsha Green showed up and found her son with tears in his eyes trying to take out his braids. She then took him outside to help. 

“I’m standing up in the cold trying to take out these dreads and I’m like, ‘Matt, this is pointless. Like what are we doing right now?’ So I go back in, and I look at the rest of the team. We’ve got ponytails. We’ve got afros. We’ve got all kinds of hair,” she said. “No one on the court has dreadlocks, so I just got frustrated because he’s been singled out because of his dreadlocks. Is dreadlocks not neat? I’m confused. What is the definition of neat?”

He took some of his braids out that night by hand and continues to rip them out daily, so Moore is now back on the court but both mother and son say that if his dreadlocks didn’t fall under neat, his hair now certainly does not. Green found it especially problematic that her son was able to play football and that even the JROTC program was eventually accepting of his hair. 

“What message are we sending them? If you want to play on Woodrow Wilson’s sports or if you want to play on the basketball team, you better cut off them dreads,” she said. “Oh, you can have hair as long as you want, you just can’t have dreadlocks, and to me that’s discrimination.” 

What she wants now is for there to be set laws from the state level that can trickle down to the counties, because she does not want this to happen again to someone else. 

“I want this situation with Matthew to nip it in the bud. Let everybody come together and let’s come up with a common rule that is fair for every culture in West Virginia,” Green said.  

We reached out to Coach Kidd and although he did not give an official statement, he did say that all of his players are instructed to keep a neat haircut. We have not heard back from the school or the school board.

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Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.