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Hair War: Isis Vs the State of Texas

By Jihad Hassan Muhammad | Last updated: Mar 13, 2014 - 12:02:14 PM

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Isis Brantley is battling the state of Texas over the freedom to braid hair and teach others how to make a living from the ancient art.
DALLAS - A champion of natural hair and beauty in communities of African descent and people of consciousness, Isis Brantley has embraced a fight to serve the people she loves. The State of Texas’ Board of Cosmetology has fought Isis for nearly 20 years, charging she is braiding and caring for hair without a license. The state wants her to stop teaching natural hair care and braiding here at her Institute of Ancestral Braiding.

Isis maintains she provides cultural enrichment and a healing to a community that has lost touch with its true culture and suffers from the horrors of drugs, crime, and poverty. 

“From the beginning I did what made me happy. I kept all my babies with me in the shop teaching and feeding them natural food. I have been able to raise 5 children doing for myself and teaching people in our community the same,” said Isis. “I took a lot women from welfare to well being, a lot of youth that were drop outs, and literally homeless and gave them the skills that I had been cultivating for years, and they were able to make a living with it.”

One such young woman she impacted was four-time Grammy award winning artist and actress Erykah Badu. “My sister and I were with my grandmother and I saw a picture of the natural braids, and I said I want that, to my grandmother, and she gave me and my sister some money and we went to Isis and got our hair done. She taught me so much about who our people are, and our greatness, about eating the proper food, and so many things that I have kept with me to this day,” Ms. Badu said.

“When I met her (Erykah Badu) she was 9, and I’ve had an impact on her. Every time she met me she would light up like a Christmas tree, and we have the same love for one another. Just being me I did not know that I was enhancing her, and cultivating her consciousness. I would take her just like I would do all the god-children in the community and show them how to build their lives centered around a conscious kitchen and how to eat to live. It started from there when I started doing her hair,” said Isis. She has done the hair and touched the lives of many others from Ms. Badu to Stevie Wonder. 

After almost 20 years of doing natural hair, in 1994, Isis was charged by the Texas Board of Cosmetology with breaking cosmetology regulations. “They said the reason why they said they took me to jail is because I was braiding without a cosmetology license. So this battle between the state and I went on for about 15 years because I was not a cosmetologist. I am an ancestral braider and natural hair care professional. So I did not understand how I was in violation to someone else’s laws when all I was doing was cultivating my community like we always have done on our front porches, in our homes and many other places which has been passed down from generation to generation,” she said.

Throughout the fight Isis has been very strong about her position, unyielding, and not budging to demands from the powers that be. The fight seemed to be coming to an end in 2007. The state grandfathered her, meaning because of her almost 30 years of professional time and effort, she would be allowed to do natural hair under state regulations. But she and many from around the country began to mobilize a coalition of natural hair braiders and professionals who felt African hair braiders should not need a license to serve their community. “I just did not see why the state of Texas should own the art of African hair braiding, so I continued to do and teach the art of African hair braiding and care,” Isis explained.  

Last October, she and the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas, saying that for over 30 years the state had violated her constitutional rights, and denied her economic liberty by not allowing her school to operate and for her to freely practice her art.

“I am taking a stand to say look there are a whole lot of young people that want to work. I can teach them and issue them a license so they can be freed from unemployment. We’re not hurting anybody. That’s all we want to do,” said the embattled natural hair guru.

“I admire the Muslims, they teach and discipline young men, and women, and are an example of strength and unity economically, socially and a political force in the community, without that we are prey,” she said.

Isis continues her fight teaching youth and caring for hair without fail.

Jihad Hassan Muhammad is managing editor of The Dallas Weekly newspaper.

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