EASTON — Briana Brown, one of the first — if not the first — African-American cosmetology teachers at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, is finding new ways to break down the haircare gap when it comes to servicing clients.
Not only is Brown making history, but Massachusetts is as well. Recently the state Senate passed the CROWN Act banning discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles.
A 2021 study conducted by Dove and the CROWN Coalition found that race-based hair discrimination starts as early as 5 years old and lingers into adulthood.
Brown wants the future hairstylist attending her classes to be well versed in the different wave patterns clients may have so they never feel bad about themselves once they leave a salon.
The same study surveyed 1,000 young female students and 32% of the Black respondents said negative comments about their hair negatively impacted their self-esteem.
In today’s society, the industry is becoming more diverse, Brown said, but coily and curly hair is often left on the back burner.
In many states, there isn’t a coily or curly hair requirement on the state licensing exams, and some hairstylists aren’t required to learn in school how to style, cut or treat coily or curly hair, Brown said.
“The state, for a long time, did not focus their energy on curly or coily hair. It didn’t specify you have to use curly or coily hair in the curriculum. So if you are an educator, it was your responsibility to figure that out to incorporate it somehow, but if you didn’t know how to do it, how would you be able to incorporate it?” Brown said.
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“I do find that there is a gap, and people are very scared to touch curly hair cause they think it’s harder, but it’s not. It’s what you make, only the technique changes. That’s why I do the blow-out boot camp, “Brown said.
The blow-out boot camp
The blow-out boot camp teaches students four blow dry methods on manikins with various wave patterns. All blow-outs must come out sleek and straight, no matter the wave pattern.
The four-wave patterns are straight, wavy, curly, and coily or kinky, which gives students different ways to tackle any wave pattern.
“I would love for my students to take the idea that no one should ever be turned away from service or a hair salon because of lack of knowledge. It’s your responsibility to find out how to do it. No one should ever be removed or taken from a salon because you haven’t figured out the knowledge,” Brown said.
At Southeastern, the cosmetology department makes sure students are fully equipped with the knowledge and tools for every hair type.
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When Brown arrived at Southeastern, she was impressed with the school’s existing curriculum and its inclusion of coily and curly hair textures. Brown may be the first cosmetology instructor of color in Southeastern’s history, but the school was not certain of that.
“The curriculum before I got here had all the things they needed for curly and coily training. They had the manikins and the hot stove. They have everything I could utilize as a teacher to teach my different students techniques, and of course, I could bring my flair and background to it,” Brown said.
In honor of Black History Month, the cosmetology department invited a special guest, Sandra Bronson, who visited the school on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.
Bronson’s grandmother Elizabeth Newton founded the La Newton School of Beauty Culture in 1949. It was the first Black-owned business that opened in Dorchester.
“The dedication and legacy by Newton has helped to pave the way for black cosmetology educators like Briana Brown, who is one of the first educators of color in the high school cosmetology department at Southeastern. Among the next generation of cosmetologists Brown is helping to teach is sophomore Rhema Heywood, Bronson’s granddaughter,” Southeastern said in a press release.
Since a teen, Brown knew she wanted to be a cosmetologist and begged her mother to attend a vocational school.
The Dorchester native attended Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Malden and graduated in 2012 with a cosmetology license.
After working in the industry for a few years, Brown decided to teach and also run a special events beauty business on the side.
Currently, Brown is working towards an occupational education degree at Fitchburg University and running a small business.
Teaching cosmetology at Southeastern is Brown’s livelihood, and she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I love everything about teaching. It connects and shapes the minds of the next generation,” Brown said.
Enterprise staff reporter Alisha Saint-Ciel can be reached by email at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter at @alishaspeakss and Instagram at Alishaatv. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Enterprise today.