Mississippi Hair Braider Challenges the Status Quo … And Wins

Melony Armstrong just wanted to set up a hair-braiding business in her hometown. Government got in the way.

Regulatory requirements demanded that the Mississippi hair braider take 1,500 hours of cosmetology classes and pay the state $10,000 for a license.

“My dream quickly began to turn into a nightmare,” Armstrong recently told an audience in Washington, D.C., about confronting the excessive requirements.

The rules didn’t sit right with Armstrong, but she didn’t walk away from her dream. She decided to challenge a status quo which had forced her to jump through hoops to comply with coursework that had nothing to do with her career choice as well as to pay for certification she wouldn’t need in order to teach her craft to others.

She told her story during a recent AEI Vision Talks, part of a series of lectures by top scholars, political leaders, and policy-makers inside the Beltway as well as business owners, practitioners, and influencers around the nation. The lectures offer fresh perspectives on key areas of public debate, and relate stories about overcoming barriers to success despite setbacks, often caused by overzealous policy.

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Because of Armstrong’s persistence, the state changed its laws. Hair braiders now pay a $25 registration fee with the state’s Board of Health, are required to post basic health and sanitation guidelines at their business, and must take a self-test on those guidelines.

“I’m just one hair braider in Tupelo, Mississippi who just happened to make one simple change in the law. There only needed to be one tweak in the law, and that one tweak in the law has affected thousands of women in Mississippi,” she said.

Armstrong now employs 25 people and has trained more than 125 people how to braid hair.

Watch her tell her story.