Jacque Reid talks to Isis Brantley, a natural hair braider, about her big court win against the state of Texas, after being arrested in 1997 for braiding hair without a proper license.
Isis is part of a longtime battle that hair braiders and other natural hair practitioners have been fighting as states moved to force them to undergo classes and other mandates that did not directly apply to them in order to become licensed.
“It was unconstitutional and illegal for them to arrest me. They arrested me because I didn’t have a cosmetology license. I’m not a barber or a hair stylist, I’m an ancestral braider, it’s a gift that was passed down to me,” Brantley said.
Not only was Brantley denied the ability to braid hair, a right which she was ultimately grandfathered into in 2007, but she was still restricted from teaching hair braiding. Most cosmetology schools don’t teach natural hair braiding, twisting or locking as cosmetology licenses are applicable to those who use heat and chemicals.
Brantley’s quest to teach hair braiding was also under fire and that led her back to court in 2011. She was not allowed to teach hair braiding without a license.
“When I went to jail, we found a lot of African braiders that are just opening up shops didn’t have licenses,” Brantley says. “It just depends on the state, for sure.”
In Texas, Brantley would have had to expand her salon, including having a fully-equipped barber college with sinks and barber chairs. The judge in her case challenged the state to find an existing natural hair school in Texas with the same equipment. They could not. The judge ruled that as a small-business owner, Brantley could not be forced to expand for those reasons.
“This is ancient, this is old, this is older than me,” Brantley said of her hair braiding expertise.
Her school and salon, Naturally Isis, which is a favorite of singer Erykah Badu, is at 2642 South Beckley and has been for 25 years in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas.
“I’ve been here 25 years and I’ve been standing strong like David, for 25 years,” Brantley says.