By Kelsey Siegler
On Thursday, February 11 at noon in the McGriff Alumni House, hair stylist Isis Brantley talked about African American hair care and her own take on the topic. In honor of Black History Month, the African American Alliance scheduled multiple events to bring the Sewanee community together to learn about African American culture, and the talk on natural hair was a memorable one. Brantley began her speech with a collection of videos of natural hair parade festivals and her personal interviews. Once the videos finished, she introduced herself. Before speaking, she called upon the ancestors to get their permission and said, “We stand tall because we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.” Brantley, a single mother of five, spent a lot of time and money to better her braiding craft, demonstrating her patience and hope for the future of braiding. She became an entrepreneur for ancestral braiding early on in her life and feels passionate about her career and lifestyle.
She dropped out of college and pursued a career in hair braiding in 1979. She created various hair adornments at a time when natural hair was the norm. Brantley taught braiding classes, so that they could get off of welfare and make a career for themselves. She describes African American hair as tight spirals similar to DNA, which represent African culture throughout time since “hair comes in all different flavors and rainbows.” Her speech took a turn when she told the audience that she was arrested for braiding hair in the early 1990’s at her hair salon, Isis Braid Locs Twists. Brantley said, “African hair was never written in the books,” so she did not do the same practice as all the other cosmetologists at the time, because African braiding and chemical practice are two different things. Brantley believes she should be able to represent her culture in her business; she mentioned, “When you live in America, the land of the free, you deserve freedom and justice.” She went to jail for illegally braiding and spent twenty years of her life helping to get rid of many unfair laws in the beautify industry shop. Brantley said that she could make the next generation of braiders be treated fairly if she was a voice for all braiders in this time of injustice. Brantley just won her case last year and finally has the right to own a braiding salon and an ancestral braiding school – the only one in the United States that focuses on the art and tradition of braiding.
Brantley does not use a comb in her salon because she wants to create a better, less painful relationship between an African American woman and her hair. She truly knows how to lock, twist, and braid like her culture taught her. Brantley knows that “God made no mistake with African hair” and all women should be proud of their hair. She wants to earn an honest living, as her “assignment in life” is to make women feel beautiful in their natural hair. Brantley wants there to be ancestral braiding salons all over the world, so every woman can experience what her salon gives its customers. She plans to march on Washington on October 7, 2016 with the motto “I’m nappy and proud,” so make plans to attend if you want to be an activist for natural hair too. All audience members left Brantley’s speech feeling encouraged to love their hair and self and potentially participate in her march on Washington.