IJ celebrated a victory with hair braiders in Maryland in 2015. Maryland does not currently regulate African hair braiding, earning it an A in our 2014 50-state report card, Untangling Regulations. A state senator introduced legislation that would create a specialty license, requiring 200 hours of coursework or a 15-month apprenticeship—but most problematically, it would require braiders to only work in licensed salons or barber shops. We were contacted by a braider who was upset by this proposal and quickly organized a meeting of braiders.
We met with 30 braiders to talk about their right to earn an honest living and how to fight back against this proposal, and prepared them for their meeting with the bill’s sponsor the following evening. Taalib-Din Uqdah and Pamela Ferrell—IJ’s very first clients, who are braiders themselves—gave passionate and inspiring speeches about the need to fight back against this government encroachment on an ancient and cherished cultural practice, and shared their advocacy expertise.
The following evening we joined over 100 braiders at the meeting with the bill sponsor. The braiders took their turns defending their right to economic liberty using the tools we helped arm them with the night before. In response to this overwhelming outcry, the sponsor withdrew his bill.