Respect Black Hair: ‘Every strand of Black hair is good hair,’ agree Black hair professionals who love their careers

Black Iowa News is celebrating Black hair in all its glory with the series, Respect Black Hair, about healthy techniques and products, the #CROWNAct and why 'Every strand of Black hair is good hair.'

Editor's note: Thanks for reading, liking and sharing the Respect Black Hair series. Hats off to the hair professionals who participated. Here is the final installment.

Black hair professionals know how to create a fresh cut, jaw-dropping braids and showstopping wigs and weaves. They know that Black hair sets trends, but also sparks bias and discrimination. They know their chairs and shops are filled with patrons who view them as part of the family, who look to them for help in creating the best version of themselves for the world to see.

Black Iowa News interviewed Black hair professionals about how they got into the business of hair and what it’s like.

Tene Williams is owner AM/PM Braiding Studio in Sioux City

Tene Williams, owner of AM/PM Braiding Studio in Sioux City. Photo courtesy of Williams.

“Every strand of Black hair is good hair,” said Tene Williams, who was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and grew up with her siblings and cousins. All the cousins would gather at her grandmother’s house while their parents worked.

“My grandma didn’t believe in outside people being our babysitter,” she said.

With so many girl cousins in the family, they styled each other’s hair, which ultimately led to her career.

“We couldn’t afford for everybody to get their hair braided,” she said.

Her oldest cousin, Krisheya, knew how to do “all the old school hairstyles,” including braids, crimps, Shirley Temple curls and finger waves, she said.

While braiding, “She would say, ‘Hold your fingers like this," Williams said, of Krisheya.

“And if I did something wrong, she would make me start over,” said Williams.

By the age of 12 or 13, Williams was charging $60 for “a whole head” of microbraids, she said.

Willams stopped doing hair briefly but is back at it full-time at the shop where she bumps trap music and serves a diverse clientele. Stylists are natural counselors or whatever their clients need them to be, said the mother of three.

“Sometimes they cry because people say I remind them of their mom,” she said.

Williams cares about her customers. She is starting a cranial hair prosthesis program to help women with hair loss use their health insurance to pay for wigs.

Erica Brewer is CEO and owner of Belle Allure Minkz and Boutique in Dubuque

Erica Brewer is CEO and owner of Belle Allure Minkz and Boutique in Dubuque. Photo courtesy of Brewer.

Easter clothes. Easter candy. Easter hair.

Erica Brewer, who was born in Chicago, Illinois, doesn’t have fond memories of Easter.

“Easter was my worst holiday,” said Brewer, the owner of Belle Allure Minkz and Boutique in Dubuque. “I knew . . . you’re getting a press and curl. I’m going to press your hair out with a pressing comb and I’m going to curl it. I hated Easter.”

After the family moved from Illinois to Iowa, when she was nine, Brewer went through culture shock living in the small town with few Blacks.

At school they'd say: ”Hey you, with the nappy hair. Do you want a chocolate milk?'” she said.

She embraced hair colors and hairstyles that made her different from her white classmates.

“I wanted to stand out,” she said.

When she was 11, her mom put her in charge of her five sisters' hair.

“So I permed all my sisters' hair, including mine,” she said.

Pretty soon she was styling everyone’s hair, which eventually led her to become a natural hair stylist and boutique owner.

“Getting your hair done is like hitting the lottery,” she said. “It’s uplifting self-esteem wise,” she said. “It does something for us.”

Her shop is the meeting spot where young women come to get lashes, or just to talk and hang out.

Martavious Clayton is a barber at Platinum Signature Barbershop in West Des Moines

Martavious Clayton is a barber at Platinum Signature Barbershop in West Des Moines.

Barber Martavious Clayton, of Platinum Signature Barbershop in West Des Moines, said men are finicky about their barbers. He remembers the time one of his longtime customers wanted to fight him.

“I had a guy that was seriously mad at me. He was ready to fight me,” he said. The customer said: “’I only stay with you, man, because I don’t want to have to train another barber how to cut my hair.”

That’s an example of how men are about their barbers, said Clayton, who was born in East St. Louis, Missouri.

Clayton maintains close relationships with his customers. They discuss finances, relationships, kids.

“You name it, we talk about it,” he said. “A lot of guys tell me this is therapeutic. This is their time to just kind of escape from the world,” he said.

Nicknamed “The Perfectionist” for his painstaking fades, Clayton earned a psychology degree from William Penn University before he went to barber college, he said.

“So actually. I am kind of using my psych degree, in a sense,” he said.

Barber college didn’t teach much about Black hair, he said. “Everything I learned, I was self-taught.” Elder barbers who visited his college also showed him pointers, he said.

Cortney Ewing is owner and a certified hair loss practitioner and certified associate trichologist at Arukah Hair Loss Center in West Des Moines

Cortney Ewing is owner and a certified hair loss practitioner and certified associate trichologist at Arukah Hair Loss Center in West Des Moines.

Cortney Ewing owns Arukah Hair Loss Center in West Des Moines. The certified hair loss practitioner and certified associate trichologist said many Blacks have a love/hate relationship with their hair.

“Most days we love it, but sometimes our hair can act like a child and does not cooperate,” said the Des Moines native.

Black hair is important culturally, she said.

“Our hair is important to us because it’s one of the ways we express ourselves,” she said. “How we style our hair helps define who we are.”

Black hair has a unique history, she said.

“I learned that Black hair has an extensive, complicated history,” she said. “In Africa, hairstyles have different meanings. The way you style your hair was based on criteria like which tribe you come from, marital status and age,” she said.

The downfall of Blacks' hair began with the excess heat and chemicals used to create styles to appeal to white American beauty standards, she said.

Ewing opened Arukah to help women restore their locks.

Respect Black Hair Series:

Iowa Natural Hair Braiding Registry

#passtheCROWN #TheCROWNAct #blackhair #hairdiscrimination #braids #twists #locs

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