Conversations around race and racial justice

In a Minneapolis salon for natural hair, women wonder if CROWN Act will help

A woman make a hair
Clients Shawn White and Kassidy Curtis sit while owner Kemi Lawani and hairdresser Blanche Ntsame Nkoulou braid their hair at Bonita's Extensions and Braids in Uptown Minneapolis on Saturday. After the CROWN Act passed, some people are questioning how it will protect Minnesotans.
Nicole Ki | MPR News

Shawn White has been using a chemical relaxer to straighten her naturally curly hair since she was 9 years old. 

After some lessons learned from damaging her hair over the years with color dying and chemical treatments, White, 41, is now a regular client of Bonita’s Extensions and Braids in Uptown Minneapolis, a Nigerian-owned hair salon specializing in natural hair styling.

It’s one of the few places White has found in the Twin Cities that caters to her hair type. She was there on Saturday getting her hair braided just a few days after the state Senate passed the CROWN Act, also known as Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair.

Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill Feb. 1, which bans discrimination against people based on their natural hair texture and style.

The store front of Bonita's Extensions and Braids
The store front of Bonita's Extensions and Braids in Uptown Minneapolis on Saturday. They are a Nigerian-owned hair salon specializing in natural hair styling.
Nicole Ki | MPR News

However, White was skeptical of how it will protect Black Minnesotans like her and their hair.

“I should not have to have, 40 years later to say, it’s now a pass to where I’m not going to be discriminated against because I want to wear my hair in an afro,” White said, referencing how long she’s been taking care of her hair.

Also in the shop was 26-year-old Kassidy Curtis. She said she was bullied in school for having kinky, curly hair.

As a result, Curtis would wake up at 5 a.m. to flatten her curls before school and avoid pools and beaches so her hair wouldn’t revert to its natural state.

“Just straightening your hair every single day is just terrible for your hair,” said Curtis, a client at the salon. “It took years for my hair to grow out and for me to even get comfortable with it to the point where it's like ‘Okay, I'll wear it natural.’ It took forever.”

As a licensed hairdresser with over 25 years of experience working with natural hair, Kemi Lawani, owner of Bonita’s Extensions and Braids, said the beauty industry should take more responsibility in destigmatizing natural hairstyles and increasing education on healthier methods to treat hair types of African Americans.

A woman make a hair
Blanche Ntsame Nkoulou braids Kassidy Curtis' hair at Bonita's Extensions and Braids in Uptown Minneapolis on Saturday. Curtis says it took her "forever" to feel confident with her natural hair.
Nicole Ki | MPR News

Lawani said only a small percent of the beauty industry is geared towards natural hair.

“We shouldn’t even have a law that protects our hair,” Lawani said. “We’re human. You know, we’re not a thing. We’re not an item. But also, can they change what’s really causing this problem? Can they fix the educational piece of it?”

Lawani is hoping to fill in the gap on natural hair education through her new beauty school, Natural Hair Care Institute — which she said will be the first natural hair school in the Twin Cities area.

Lawani’s goal with her beauty school is to create jobs, internships and apprenticeships for braiders and natural hair stylists. More broadly, Lawani aims to create more inclusivity in the local beauty industry.

The school is scheduled to open in March.

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