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Head of charity backed by NFL and Jay-Z's Roc Nation apologizes for dreadlock cutting

"It was not meant to be insensitive," said Sally Hazelgrove of the Crushers Club about the images she posted in 2016 of her cutting off the locs of black teens.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Jay-Z at a news conference at ROC Nation on Aug. 14, 2019, in New York.Ben Hider / AP Images for NFL

The head of a charity that has been awarded $200,000 by a new partnership between Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and the NFL has apologized for social media posts some deemed insensitive, including two with images of her cutting off the dreadlocks of two black teenagers.

Sally Hazelgrove, founder and executive director of the Crushers Club, a Chicago-based nonprofit, said the two photos that were widely circulated online this week were taken in October 2016 and that the two teens had requested she shear their dreads. She said the images originally appeared in tweets she sent from the Crushers Club's Twitter account.

"This was something they asked me to do because they were looking to change their identities," Hazelgrove told NBC News on Friday, adding that her organization has no policy regarding hairstyles.

Hazelgrove, who is white, said she posted both of the tweets, including one on Oct. 25, 2016, that said: “Another Crusher let me cut his dreads off! It’s symbolic of change and their desire for a better life!”

In another tweet that September, she used the hashtag #loveshorthair.

The Crushers Club tweets were dug up by Twitter user Resist Programming.

Hazelgrove contends the haircuts were not about conforming to white standards as some of her critics have suggested.

"It was not meant to be insensitive," said Hazelgrove, who also noted that her children are biracial.

But, she said she now understands how her social media posts could have been interpreted as such.

Black people have long faced criticism and discrimination for wearing their hair in natural styles, such as braids and dreadlocks. Now, due to the growing popularity of wearing hair natural, more blacks are coming up against rules banning such hairstyles in schools and in the workplace.

Acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, who wears locs, was among those to weigh in on the controversy Thursday when she posted one of the now-deleted tweets containing an image of Hazelgrove appearing gleeful with scissors in hand.

"I’d like to have a conversation with you and those young people about dreads and desires and dreams," DuVernay wrote. "About dreads and 'a better life.' Shame on anyone supporting this full-on nonsense."

DuVernay also pinned a tweet to the top of her Twitter page on Friday urging loc wearers to share images of themselves with the hashtag #loclife.

The NFL and Jay-Z’s music and entertainment company, Roc Nation, also came under fire for the donation to Hazelgrove's group by Inspire Change, the league's new social activism initiative with the rap mogul.

Neither the NFL nor Roc Nation immediately returned requests for comment. Hazelgrove's nonprofit is one of two awarded a $200,000 grant from Inspire Change.

Hazelgrove posted a video to Twitter on Friday of one of the young men whose dreadlocks she previously cut corroborating her account.

“I cut my hair like three years ago, that was something I wanted to do,” Kobe, 19, said in the video. “I was tired of it, tired of gangbanging, tired of messing up. Now I’m a changed young man. Trying to see bigger and better dreams.”

The video was retweeted by Roc Nation's Twitter account.

Hazelgrove said she founded the Crushers Club on the South Side of Chicago in 2013 with the intention of reducing gang violence by getting kids involved in boxing, music and leadership programs and by providing mentoring opportunities.

Since its inception, 350 youth have joined the group, including more than 90 individuals who have been "justice-involved," according to the Crushers Club website.

"My goal is and will always be to equip our youth with the resources to improve their neighborhoods, maximize their potential and develop into the leaders of tomorrow," Hazelgrove said Friday.

The haircutting tweets weren't the only ones Hazelgrove was criticized for. After the killing of five Dallas police officers in July 2016, she tweeted, “All Lives Matter," a term some interpret as a critique of the Black Lives Matter movement.

That tweet was also deleted.

Hazelgrove told NBC News that she was trying to be "inclusive" when she sent the tweet, and never intended for it to be "a dig" at the Black Lives Matter campaign, which started as an anti-police brutality movement.

The resurfacing of her old tweets has come with a costly lesson, Hazelgrove said.

"It has taught me quite a lot," she said. "I need to be more aware of my words. Especially now with a partnership with Inspire Change and the light that has been shone on me."