-- Assatou Balde's hands flick smoothly back and forth above her client's
partially uncovered head, quickly weaving strands of hair called microbraids
and affixing them to the woman's natural hair.
Next to her, Nene Balde goes through a similar process while braiding the
locks of another customer.
But with the quiet artistry at Nene's Hair Braiding in West
Philadelphia, there simmers a debate over a new state law that will require
hair braiders to get special licenses.
By Patrick Walters, Associated
Press Published September 26, 2006 found at hosted.ap.org/
"She got licensed to braid my hair when I paid her," Tasha Budd, 27,
called out as Assatou Balde began the hours-long process of putting the tiny
braids in her hair. "Why do you need a license in 2006 when they've been
braiding all these years? They just want your money."
Supporters say the special licenses will keep braiders from getting unfair
fines of up to $1,000 for not being licensed cosmetologists. But some say the
government is targeting an African art and may put immigrant braiders out of
At Nene's, braids like the ones Budd was getting cost between $140 to $160 for
a process that can take five or six hours; cornrows come in at $50. Since the
regulations haven't been finalized, the state hasn't determined exactly how
much the permit and educational classes would cost.
Some also worry about the plight of immigrant braiders who come to America and
often don't speak English, a skill they would likely need to get through
"They came here with that craft," said Bertina Pelzer as she worked
on a client's hair at Duafe Holistic Hair Care in North Philadelphia.
"That is their only means of getting any sort of income."
Pennsylvania is the latest state to step into the braiding debate. Nine
others--New York, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, South
Carolina and Louisiana--have braiding licenses. Others exempt braiders from
In Mississippi last year, the state removed a requirement for African-style
braiders to have either a 1,500-hour cosmetology license or a 300-hour
wig-specialist license. Under a new law, professional braiders have to take a
self-guided test and pay a $25 fee.
Syreeta Scott, the owner of Duafe, thinks there should be some sort of code of
conduct for braiders, but has mixed feelings about the law. She recently had
to let some braiders go, in part because they didn't want to get the
The Pennsylvania law, which went into effect earlier this month, requires 300
hours of training through the state's Board of Cosmetology. If a braider can
prove he or she has been practicing for at least three years, only 150 hours
of training would be required.
Amadou Balde, the owner of Nene's Hair Braiding and the father of Assatou and
Nene, said he thinks the state's original cosmetology license requirement was
unfair. But now that the license is specifically for braiders, people should
do their best to comply, he said.
"Go learn some English and try to pass the test," said Balde, who
moved to the U.S. from Senegal in 1987. "We are not in Africa anymore, we
- - -
African Hair Styles
The law in Illinois
Illinois is strict about braiding african hair styles.
State law requires braiders to be licensed cosmetologists--a process that
involves a state examination and at least 1,500 hours of training at a
cosmetology or barber school. Those caught practicing without a license can be
fined up to $5,000 for each offense.