From Lena Horne to Beyoncé, Universal College of Beauty School has produced star stylists
Celebrity hairstylist Tiffany Dixon grew up interacting with the youth of Hollywood while attending Beverly Hills High School, but she drove to the Crenshaw District for lessons in glamour, fashion and style, and then I enrolled in the historic Universal College of Beauty.
Dixon graduated in the same 1991 class as Kim Kimble, who became Whitney Houston’s longtime hairstylist and whose work with stars like Beyoncé led to her own multi-season reality TV show.
For four generations and nearly 100 years, the family-run Universal College of Beauty has produced star stylists and beauty gurus by teaching aspiring entrepreneurs the art of beauty, hair styling and cosmetology. Angeles and beyond.
Over the course of its long history, the school has weathered many ups and downs, including recessions, social unrest and, most recently, pandemics. It was during this final challenge that the university connected with Destination Crenshaw and hooked up with a micro-grant program to help pay taxes. This support was provided through DC Thrive, DC’s program to support entrepreneurs throughout the Crenshaw region.
“We are so grateful for that support,” said Jasmine Williams, the school’s director and fourth-generation operator of the 1.3-mile long road, intended to put Blackness’ cultural stamp on the Crenshaw neighborhood. outdoor art gallery and restoration project. “I love Destination Crenshaw.”
The connection with Hollywood has always been strong. Early alumni tended to favor legends like Lena Horne and Etta James (they knew better than to let people unaccustomed to dark skin and curly hair trust their professional looks). .
“Going to Universal made me feel at home,” says Dixon. “They gave me what my culture needed.”
According to her grandson, Kenneth Williams, the current owner of the school, creating her own home in the world of beauty was what inspired founder Hazel Williams to launch the family business in 1929. .
Inspired by Madam CJ Walker, the first self-made millionaire in the United States, according to Guinness World Records, Williams not only founded the school, but also created her own hair care line.
In 1966, when the business needed funding, Martin Luther King Jr. persuaded Kenneth’s father, John Williams, that he was a friend, to test and ask for help from the federal government. Williams applied for and received what is believed to be the first-ever loan to a minority-owned company by the United States Small Business Administration. Dr. King also helped connect the school with financial aid to students.
“That’s why we’re here today,” Williams says of the $25,000 loan the school received. Dr. King also urged his family to change the name of the school from Henrietta Beauty School (named in honor of the woman who provided the first loan) to something more universal.
Jasmine Williams, the daughter of Kenneth Williams and the current principal, said when she saw a large photograph of a civil rights leader shaking hands with her grandfather on display at the university, she said, “He named everyone. I wanted it,” he said.
Since then, the school has helped stylists pursue community-based careers and provide a high degree of self-determination.
“This is a career that someone can set up where they live,” says Kenneth Williams. He points out that stylists can design their own schedules and control their own destinies. Besides the convenience, he added, a career in the beauty industry is fulfilling in other ways.
For generations, universities have thrived and survived. For many years, it operated campuses not only at its current location, but also on Vermont Street in downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere in North Carolina.
When South LA was set ablaze in 1992 by the Rodney King Uprising, Jasmine Williams remembers the night her father left home for college. Vermont He was desperate to persuade the mob to defend his place on Avenue. He succeeds, but a nearby building catches fire and the flames spread to the university, which also burns down.
And while national and local tragedies were being swept away, personal tragedies struck.
On the eve of the 1991 school graduation ceremony, a hit-and-run driver assaulted John Williams’ wife, then-school principal, Jonniell Williams, killing her instantly along with Kenneth’s half-brother.
Years later, John Williams closed his North Carolina campus. His family rebuilt the Vermont location, but he was later merged into one location.
But the Covid pandemic has introduced the latest existential threat. How can an institution that teaches the intimate, hands-on artistic skills of cosmetology (the art of styling hair) survive virtualization?
“I had no confidence that it would work,” Kenneth Williams says today. “I was 100% wrong about that. I had a celebrity hairstylist come to my class via Zoom. I had a great time on Zoom during the pandemic.”
Today, the college is doing well enough, says Kenneth Williams, who plans to add courses for barbers and estheticians next year and reintroduce courses for manicurists.
Father credits daughter for successfully moving school classes online. Next, Jasmine Williams takes all credit for her faith.
“I think that’s why we’re still here today,” she says.
On a recent morning, in the school’s main industrial-looking teaching space, members of Howard University’s Kanye West choir swayed back and forth singing about victory on a big-screen TV mounted high on the wall. I was. The mood was light and dizzying.
Students showcased elaborate hairstyles on mannequin heads and competed for a panel of judges. A longtime staple of the school, the mannequin contest is the exercise that once inspired Beyoncé stylist and Universal alumnus Kim Kimble to “do more avant-garde hair.” It’s the way you need to put it.”
19-year-old LaNayja Nash, who came in second for intricate handwork, said school was a family matter for her, not just the Williams clan.
“My mother and great-grandmother all used to go to school,” said Nash, an aspiring hairstylist, clothing designer and photographer.
Jasmine Williams wants to fan the flames of that kind of ambition.
“The Bible says that without vision there is perish,” she told her students.
She shared one of her own.
“My vision for Universal College of Beauty is to continue the legacy of creating careers for people in our community, not jobs,” she says. “I am so grateful to be part of the family business. I have seen it change lives and I hope we can continue to do so.