“When I die, I want the world to be a different and better place because I existed in it,” she says. She decided to start with her own kids, teaching them “the world is not just about them, it’s about what you can do for others and make the world a better place.”
A deeply spiritual woman of five kids, including a 13-year-old bonus baby she took in to love last year, Nelson first got her feet wet in advocacy when Ashton, now 17, was diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s. She threw herself into a fight for him “when school tried its best to label him everything but the genius that he is,” then became a liaison for other parents who couldn’t find their voices.
The pride in her crew is evident as she describes them: Kamaria Crowley, 22, who is about to become a civil and environmental engineer; Ashton Hawkins, a genius; London Goins, 13, who finished top of the class her first year in private school; Ava Hawkins, 11, her doppelganger who taught herself to read at 4; and Gus “Jett” Hawkins, future lobbyist and change maker. “He’s been fighting for what he wanted since he was born,” she says about Jett.
Nelson most recently became the face of a movement she hopes she can spread nationwide once her work in Illinois is done: prohibiting schools from issuing policies on hairstyles historically associated with race or ethnicity.
In Illinois, the new law that sprung from her crusade goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022, Senate Bill 817 — or better known as the Jett Hawkins Law. The crusade began when Jett, 4, was told by his school that his braids violated school dress code.