How IJ Changed an Outlaw Into a Crusader for Justice
By Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah
Twenty years ago, I was an outlaw. My crime: braiding hair without a license. My wife Pamela and I own and operate Cornrows & Co., an African-style hairbraiding salon in Washington, D.C. But with the help of the Institute for Justice, we beat back the regulators and spent the past 10 years not only growing our business above board but also crusading against unjust licensing laws across the nation.
Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah worked with IJ to deregulate African hairbraiding in Washington, D.C. Now he has become the leading advocate for the deregulation of braiding nationwide.
When we first met Clint Bolick, he was defending Ego Brown’s right to shine shoes in Washington. Clint immediately understood our struggle with government regulation that had kept our business from growing. Under a 1938 Jim Crow-era law, the District of Columbia required hairbraiders to have state-issued cosmetology licenses to legally practice their profession. Our problem with this requirement was that the license required extensive training, none of which was even remotely related to our profession. The regulators kept us from growing and expanding our business as we would have liked because we practiced hairbraiding unlicensed.
From our very first meeting with the Institute for Justice, we knew we had found the organization to represent our position. We didn’t have to explain to IJ why we were right and the government was wrong. IJ understood and helped us to clearly define our struggle spiritually, morally and legally in a way we never had before: we needed economic freedom.
The Fifth and 14th Amendments were not working for us because government was standing in the way of our liberty. With the help of IJ, the Constitution came alive for us as more than just a historical document. It has practical applications for real Americans. We realized that the Constitution is about us, our family and our right to pursue our own American Dream.
Since IJ helped Pamela and me win our legal victory in the District of Columbia, we’ve founded the American Hairbraiders and Natural Haircare Association. As advocates for hairbraiders across the nation, we’ve contributed to changes in licensing laws in 14 states and counting. Working with IJ attorneys Dana Berliner and Miranda Perry we’ve raised awareness about economic liberty and the importance of freedom for entrepreneurs. Rather than resting after our victory, we’ve followed up by becoming crusaders for justice.
The common ground that all of IJ’s activities share is the fight for freedom. Whether it’s defending economic liberty, the right to direct your own child’s education, the right to speak or be silent or the right to private property, IJ’s mission is always the protection of freedom.
Until we met the people at IJ, we always thought of ourselves as politically independent. We often disagreed with other native Washingtonians (most of whom are Democrats) about a variety of issues from affirmative action to zoning to education. When we joined forces with IJ, we realized we were not alone. IJ is fighting for what we’ve always felt was right.
Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah was the Institute for Justice’s first client and joined with us again in a successful suit to deregulate California’s hairbraiding industry.