African Hair Braiders and the Fight for Immigration Reform

The connection between African hair braiders in NYC and ACT’s enduring struggle for immigration reform is stronger than ever!

Hair Braiding in NYC

In November 2015, ACT staff and volunteers launched a city-wide survey, also known as the Blitz, with African hair braiders. What began as a modest survey to learn more about African hair braiders and their need for childcare assistance and worker's rights has transformed into one of ACT’s largest service and advocacy initiatives. Although a success, the Blitz was not without hurdles. One of the greatest challenges our volunteers experienced during the survey was establishing trust among the braiders. "It was very difficult at first. The braiders didn't know about our organization or what our objective was, but in the end we really connected with them personally," Lamisse, a Blitz volunteer and ACT member, later recalled. Despite the setbacks, our volunteers worked tirelessly and in less than four weeks they had surveyed 350 African hair braiders across three boroughs.

In the days and weeks following the Blitz, ACT joined forces with other nonprofits and city agencies to host the African Hair Braider Orientation. The purpose of the event was to share with African hair braiders information on worker’s rights, small businesses, and immigration assistance. In addition, presenters spoke to hair braiders about how they can earn the Natural Hair Styling License, a type of certification required to braid hair in salons legally. By the end of the Orientation, over 100 African hair braiders attended and signed up for services with organizations like NYC Business Solutions, African Services Committee, Urban Justice Center, and Sauti Yetu Center for African Women and Families. These women left feeling energized and mobilized to continue fighting for greater rights not only in their places of work, but in NYC as well.

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 Amaha Kassa, ACT Executive Director, speaking to braiders at the African Hair Braider Orientation in January

African Community Meeting on Immigration

On February 8, 2016, nearly 90 members gathered in Harlem for a lively discussion on immigration. Attending members listened to a presentation by ACT staff, and attorneys from Sauti Yetu Center for African Women and Families, African Services Committee, and Urban Justice Center. Each presenter highlighted important information on immigration such as DAPA/DACA+, Temporary Protected Status, Withholding of Removal, and how to avoid fraudulent immigration lawyers.

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Akinde Kodjo-Sanogo, ACT Community Organizer, updating members on TPS at the February Membership Meeting

Temporary Protected Status Campaign

ACT's work on immigration does not stop after events like the African Hair Braider Orientation or the February Membership Meeting. Immigration is one of the leading topics of interest in our African community. When Congress fails to take action, the African community is hurt. That is why for the next three months, ACT will be partnering with local African associations and nonprofits to lead a campaign fighting for the extension of Temporary Protected Status. Whether this program affects you, a friend, a family member, or not at all, we encourage all of our members to join us in rallying for this important issue! Together we are strong, but divided we are weak. 

Upcoming Events

In March, ACT has several new and exciting developments in the works. Our March Membership Meeting will be held on March 7 and will focus on common mistakes people make when filing taxes, where and how to obtain a tax I.D., and where you can file taxes for free. In addition, ACT will be working with partner organizations to host the Natural Hair Styling License Clinic, an opportunity for African hair braiders to sit with lawyers and organization staff to apply for the license. 

These upcoming events, as well as the TPS campaign, are just a few of the critical steps ACT is taking to help our community get ahead socially and economically. Therefore, it is important that each and everyone of our members get involved in any way possible!