By Alicia Wilson
The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.
Isis Brantley put her career on pause and sacrificed her freedom in the fight to deregulate the hair-braiding industry in Texas and allow Black people to continue braiding hair at home.
Now, Brantley is the grandmother of hair. She is called YeYe, which means grandmother.
“As I was growing in my age and my years, I started to create a stronger foundation for myself,” Brantley said. “Now that I’m approaching the age of 64, as a grandmother I feel stronger, and I am connected – coming into purpose.”
Brantley has always had a love for natural hair. Even as a little girl, she challenged beauty standards, knowing that the natural state of Black hair was beautiful. Brantley started to braid hair in college, and she said people in the community were always asking her to do their hair. A mother of five, this was how she made a living.
Brantley started receiving legal backlash for braiding hair at home — which didn’t bother her at first. But the week she opened her storefront, she was arrested. That’s when she officially took a stand to deregulate natural hair care practices in Texas for all kitchen beauticians. She believed people should not be forced to go to school in order to practice something that is part of Black culture, especially when state-sanctioned institutions do not teach natural hair care.
“We don’t tell anyone about our hair and how natural hair practices are a way of life, that there is beauty in hair. … Our own house was the first place that our natural hair felt at home, knowing that was where you grow and mix the things needed for your hair,” Brantley said.
Brantley ultimately won her fight against hair-braiding regulation in 2015 with the passage of Texas House Bill 2717, which exempts hair braiders from having to acquire a cosmetology license to operate within the state. Kitchen beauticians can continue the historical practice of hair braiding without threat of legal implications, thanks to Brantley’s diligence.
Today, she is the YeYe of the community — teaching young women hair-braiding and how to make their own hair products from different ingredients. She recently released a book, Stolen Crown: Black Hair Stories, 400 Years Later. She aims to ensure generations — including within her own family — understand the history of their hair and the history of the kitchen beautician.
In 2017, Isis’ welcomed her firstborn grandchild, Samba Ala Aridata, meaning mother earth has returned. Her second grandchild was born in 2019, Adaeze Dayo. The name means the birth of the daughter has joy.
“Being able to look at your grandchildren and see the past in them – we understand that we are still connected to the past generations,” Brantley said. “When I saw Samba the first time, It was like seeing one of my ancestors come back. Samba is such a wise spirit. When I saw her I knew that life was continuing. … My second grandbaby looks like my grandmother. They are literally 20 years apart.
“When I looked upon them I saw beautiful life. I knew I wanted to be there as much as I could,” she continued. “I understand that it is my job to teach my grandchildren their history and culture, teach them how to move on this earth.”
Brantley said when she became a grandparent, she felt responsible to enrich their lives.
“I felt like it was my duty to put in all the good tools into the next generation. I understand it is my responsibility to help find their purpose,” she said. “I keep them laughing – always bring fun things to do. I’m always bringing them to the concept of creative.”
She has helped raise many generations and said she found her strength when she became a grandmother. She understands her role as YeYe.
“We are an extended family on the planet. It is not only our responsibility to give back to our own bloodline. So what I have done as grandmother is give back to so many children,” Brantley said. “So many families have told me that I taught their children how to eat better. I taught them how to love their hair and how to do hair. I taught them how to love themselves.”