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This 23-Year-Old Celeb Hairstylist Survived Homelessness & Built A Hair Empire

BOSS UP

Oftentimes, we hear fascinating stories about successful people who went from being broke to being a boss and we become so fixated on the how. How were they able to crawl out of that hole of despair? How did they make their vision come to life? How were they able to make a lot of money? While the "how" is important to know, the "why" is actually so much sweeter. For the past two years, celebrity hair artist Daniella Emilien, aka Hair By Ivy has garnered much traction in the hair industry with high profile clients such as Real Housewives of Atlanta star Marlo Hampton, Growing Up Hip Hop Atlanta star Reginae Carter, and rapper Kash Doll.

She also has a hair salon, Hair by Ivy, and her Ivy League Academy, where she teaches aspiring hair stylists tips and tricks to being a hair boss.

But prior to these prosperous two years, Ivy was 19 years old, pregnant, and living on the streets of Miami, FL.

When she found out she was expecting, she had just graduated from high school and was attending a local community college.While she was surprised yet excited about having a child, her mother struggled with the reality of her pregnancy. "I come from a Haitian and Bahamian background and when you get pregnant at a young age, it's a really bad thing in the family. My mom had a really hard time with me being pregnant and so she kicked me out," says Ivy.

For the first six months of her pregnancy, Ivy was homeless, sleeping in cars and hotel rooms. She was expecting twins, but ended up losing one of her babies in the third month due to sleeping in cars. While she did have a job, she still wasn't making enough to provide for herself, let alone her child, and being pregnant didn't necessarily make her a stand out candidate for hire. So, she continued to experience financial hardships that began to take a toll on her mentally.

She was alone and although she did have contact with her child's father, she was still doing everything by herself. "Yeah, we had contact [and] he tried to help, but I was just like, 'It's my first child, I want my mom to be there. I want the love from my mom.' He was active, he tried to take me in and do different stuff, but there were days when I talked to him and days that I didn't talk to him just because I wanted to go through the situation by myself. I was young, I didn't know any better. I needed the guidance of my mom because that's who I looked up to at that time," she explained.

As her due date drew closer, Ivy finally got what she needed when she and her mother reconnected. She was invited back home, and soon after, she gave birth to her son Mason. But while she had a safe place to lay her head, she still continued to struggle financially.

Being a new mother, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place where she couldn't work because she didn't have anyone to babysit her child and she couldn't afford a babysitter because she couldn't work. Instead of giving into her circumstances, she decided to overcome them. She began brainstorming ideas to make money right away. From there, she began recalling her childhood passion: hair.

Growing up, Ivy would always do her friends and cousins' hair, but she never thought to pursue it professionally until she found her back against the wall. After praying about it for two days, Ivy sent out a mass text letting everyone know that she was back living with her mom and that she would be offering hair services and the word traveled. "I didn't have business cards, I didn't have flyers, I didn't have Instagram, Facebook. I didn't have the type of tools that people use to market. I literally started from the bottom with nothing. I stepped out on faith," she says.

"I literally started from the bottom with nothing. I stepped out on faith."

Within a year, Ivy went back to school and got her cosmetology license. She started promoting her services on Instagram, which led to her securing the bag with her first celebrity client, Love and Hip Hop: New York star OG Nya Lee. Since then, she has worked with other Love and Hip Hop franchise stars, such as Joseline, Dream Doll, and Alexis Sky.

While building a diverse clientele of celebrities and non-celebrities, Ivy also opened her very own opulent hair salon suite and created a custom wig collection. She took things a step further by deciding to give back to the industry that changed her life, starting with creating her Ivy League Academy, a branding and marketing course for aspiring hairstylists looking to get into the hair business.

Ivy is thankful for the life she has now and she contributes it all to her son. In two years, Ivy was able to turn her life around by taking chances, keeping faith, and working diligently all because she just wanted to provide for her son. Her son became her "why" and her motivation to become and stay successful. "I appreciate everything I have now. I'm a hardworking woman. I have a lot of morals now, I don't settle for less and I don't take 'no' for an answer so those are some of the things that I cherish now because I went through that journey."

"I don't settle for less and I don't take 'no' for an answer."

At only 23 years old, Ivy has already overcome so much and she wants to use her platform to share her story with others who are experiencing tough situations where it seems there is no end in sight. "I started to grow, pray, and fall more in love with myself and build [my] confidence up so I can talk about it. I want to be an inspiration to someone who's going through what I went through and let [him or her] know that it doesn't stop or end there, that there is more life after that situation."

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
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Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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