Illinois’ African Women Entrepreneurs Fight For Their Right to Braid [Video]

A new video shows how Illinois' professional hair braiders worked with legislators to defeat a racially skewed licensing law.

By Channing Kennedy Apr 25, 2012

Hair braiding, done with time and care rather than with harsh chemicals, has been a connecting thread for African culture for a very very long time. But until recently, due to an Illinois law, professional hair braiders in the state were [legally barred from operating a business]( without first attending 1500 hours of cosmetology school. It’s a regulation that not only posed a major barrier in terms of money and time, but which also didn’t make any sense, since most cosmetology schools don’t teach braiding; braiders could be perfect students and learn nothing relevant. As a result, high-skill African immigrant women entrepreneurs who’d learned their trade from their mothers were being pushed underground, and were vulnerable to legal action. Then, in September 2011, groups like the Illinois Association of Hair Braiders and the United African Organization worked with state legislators to create a separate license for hair braiders. The new license requires 300 hours of classroom and practical experience, ensuring that applicants get relevant schooling and customers get qualified professionals. It’s a real victory for Illinois’ 24,000 professional hair braiders. In this new video created by Emmanuel García at [the Crossroads Fund](, whose grant to the United African Organization helped with this lobbying campaign, the folks involved this victory discuss the old law’s skewed economic impact on African immigrant women and how they worked with the system to create a solution for everyone. Inspiring stuff!