Influential Woman | Isis Brantley

Isis “Yeye” oshun Brantley is the natural hair pioneer and the matriarch and trailblazer of the natural hair movement in Dallas, Texas and all of the North Texas surrounding cities.   Her Institute for Ancestral Braiding has serviced the Dallas community for over 30 years.  In that time, she has seen the natural hair landscape change, be redefined, and reemerge into its present glory.  She was at the helm of all of that change.  Because of her expertise and true love for Black hair and Black people, she is the ideal candidate for Natural Hair Brown Beauty’s Blog.  Her natural hair story is one of struggle, triumph, and tooth-and-nail dedication to educating people of African descent about hair maintenance and self-love.

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I sat down with Yeye to understand the evolution of Black hair and to comprehend how she sees the Natural Hair Movement evolving in the next generation. 

But first, some preliminary questions…

So Yeye, did you transition into natural hair, or did you do the ‘Big Chop’?

I transitioned.  During the mid-to-late ‘60s, when I went natural, people were professing self-love, acceptance, and Black Power.  We were beginning to see our hair as a direct link to our ancestors and who we truly were as a people by our own definition.  So, I transitioned from a perm with braids and cornrows and cut hair off a little bit at a time.  My mother would still press my hair when it was time for church.

How long have you been natural?

I am proud to say, that it has been over 30 years.  Though I went natural in the 60s, I wore a Jheri curl in the 80s, which was still a chemical.  I transitioned from that style too, and have been natural ever since.

What hair type do you have?

I have a blend of African hair that has been blended with Irish, which curls up and spirals much like my DNA.  It is very soft and cottony. 

What are you favorite hair products and how difficult/easy was it take to discover what works best for your hair type?

I only use Sisters of Isis products.  This line is formulated to cleanse and strengthen the scalp. 

{This line can be purchased at the website at the end of the article}

What influenced you to embrace being a natural hair brown beauty?

Well, I was growing up during a time of Black self-determination.  It was a time that we as Black people were reclaiming and embracing our African heritage.  I went to North Texas State University and began to get involved with the student-lead Black Power Movement.  The Black Panthers and other conscious student groups were talking about the importance of not only embracing who we are not only for aesthetic reasons, but for political reasons as well.  We had been lied to and forced to believe that who we were and are was/is not beautiful, but that it was inhuman, savage even.  We had been fed the lies through the American power system.

As I began to understand that, the African goddess within me began to awaken.  I began to utilize the talent I had for braiding and maintaining African hair to teach the community about how to care for our hair.  During that time, many of us did not know how to even maintain our hair and keep it healthy in its natural state.  We only knew how to press it or damage with chemicals.  It became my duty to pass down my knowledge of braiding that I learned from my mother, aunts, and grandmothers, so that Black men and women could know how to properly groom themselves and love themselves.

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How does being a natural hair brown beauty make you feel?

It makes me feel not only overjoyed to embrace whom the Creator has made me to be, but it gives me a sense of pride and confidence that no perm ever could.  It’s my mission to pass that self-pride and esteem to women who are transitioning and are considering returning their hair to its natural state.

What is your take on women with identity crises and media standards of natural hair?

Well, it’s important to understand that this identity crisis that plagues our community does not simply stem from media induced lies.  Our crisis with our hair and skin color stems from the history of slavery and colonization.  The media is just a contemporary tool of the larger machine that wishes to suppress the African within us. 

Women are afraid to embrace their natural hair not only because of media standards of “beauty,” but the suppression of our hair by us stems also from the acceptance of Christianity that taught us that being African was against God and savage.

We receive political persecution because we wear our hair this way.   We have been forced to hide our hair for centuries.  During the period of enslavement, we had to hide our hair because the oppressors felt it was unsightly and we internalized that and it has manifested itself overtime.  Now, in the work place, we face that same type of persecution.  Our hair is seen as “unprofessional,” and a lot of women feel that they won’t be able to secure a job and support their families by wearing their hair in its natural state.

What has been your experience being natural and being a natural hair stylist? 

My experience being natural has been a great and beautiful journey.  Loving the woman who the Creator intended me to be has been awesome.  I’ve been able to educate my children and to teach them to love themselves in the form the Creator has blessed them with.

Being a natural hair stylist, and being one of the first natural hair stylists in Dallas, I have been able to share the love of naturally kinky, coily hair with my community.  I have been more than a stylist, as hairdressers normally are.  I have been a counselor and an educator.  My chair is like a therapist’s couch.  Women confide in me with their hair stories and their fears about naturals.  I use my shop as a place of awareness.  While I am doing hair, or educating others about braiding, locking, or twisting, I debunk myths, preach self-love, and give women the tools they need to teach their own families about their hair, natural products, and the harm that chemicals can to not only your hair, but your body.

Have you had to overcome any hardships or adversities on your natural hair journey?

In 1995, I was charged with braiding without a cosmetology license.  I was told that I had to complete 900 hours of hair training.  This was totally ludicrous because I wasn’t using chemicals.  I was braiding, locking and twisting hair.  So, I didn’t stop.  I was arrested and had to stand trial, so I got a lawyer and we fought long and hard.  The trial resulted in me getting grandfathered into the system.  But, I fought against that because it wasn’t enough for me alone to grandfathered into the system and safe from scrutiny.  I fought also for young women in the community who braid hair without so-called formal training.   My contingency was that braiding was a cultural and sacred right that involved healing and socialization passed down from generation to generation.  How could a government entity tell me I had to be certified through them?

So, I soon got the right to train young women and men through my own certification that teaches all natural techniques of caring for and maintaining hair.  But even that was a long hard fight.

What have been some of your most rewarding moments on your natural hair journey?

The most rewarding part of my journey has been educating and teaching women and men about the beauty of natural hair.  At the helm of that journey, I have been able to style hair for Stevie Wonder on a few of his tours and I have been styling Erykah Badu’s hair since she was a child.  Erykah has also been a true champion for natural hair and African culture.  Her reach and her love for music and healing our people has also added to this movement.  Going on tour with her and styling her hair has been a dream because I have gotten to teach and groom an even larger group of people and that’s what the journey is all about, extending your path and your reach positively to others.

What advice would you give a woman/girl considering embracing their natural hair?

I would tell them that they have so much support with all the sistas who are natural now and have so many diverse styles and hairtextures to be proud of.   I would encourage them to use their impetus for going natural to explore who they are as people and as women in charge of their own destinies.  I would tell them that this journey isn’t an overnight one.  It takes some getting used to, but that the pay-off is great because embracing their natural is embracing the goddess within.

Yeye is hosting the Third Annual Naturallyisis Natural Hair Parade in Dallas, Texas, which is the world’s first and only parade dedicated to African hair, products, and hairstyles.  It is an outward display of self-love and cultural pride. 

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This year, the parade will take place Saturday, September 7, 2013 at the corner of Lamar and MLK Blvd in Dallas, Texas.  The parade line-up will begin at 8AM and the parade will begin promptly at 10:30AM.  The parade will flow from the corner of Lamar and MLK Blvd., and will end at the Pan-African Connection at 828 Fourth Ave in South Dallas across from the Music Hall at Fair Park. At 1:30PM, the Naturallyisis Festival will begin at Pan-African Connection. 

In tandem with the parade and festival, The Isis Project’s Party Under the Stars will occur Saturday, September 7, 2013 at Eden Lounge located at 2911 Main Street in the Deep Ellum District in Dallas.  Admission is $10. 

Preceding the Natruallyisis Parade, there will be the Naturally Deep in Ellum Artist Block Party on Friday, September 6, 2013 on Main Street between Good Latimer and Malcom X Blvd. in Dallas’s Deep Ellum from 5PM-10PM.  This event is free and open to the public.

Please feel free to research the Naturallyisis Natural Hair Parade by visiting Isis’s websites:

www.Isisproject.co  & http://www.naturallyisis.com.

Also, if you are in the Dallas area, feel free to stop by the Institute of Ancestral Braiding’s two locations:

2642 South Beckley

Dallas, TX 75244

&

17290 Preston Rd.

Suite 104

Dallas, Texas 75248

Happy Natural,

Ava Tiye Wilson

 

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