Sisterlocks Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with a Four-City ‘Freedom Tour’

Bantu knots, braids and, of course, dreadlocks are nothing new, but as of late, especially, we've been drawn more and more toward natural styles. But one company has been at it for 25 years. Sisterlocks is a coined term for micro-manicured strands of locked hair or "micro locs" as you may have heard them referred, and it's also a company, led by inventor JoAnne Cornwell, Ph.D., who's been at the helm promoting the style, training others on the technique and acquiring a legion of loyal fans. "Somebody had to lay the groundwork," says Cornwell. "It really excites me that the things that we were so passionate about when we didn't have a support system, we didn't have media exposure – people just kind of thought we were a little bit weird and needed to go have our hair fixed – I feel gratified that this is finally taking (off)."

Sisterlocks will stop in Detroit July 6-7 on its Freedom Tour, a weekend of networking, workshops, panel discussions, giveaways, demonstrations and more. Cornwell promises "a broad spectrum of activities," some professionally geared toward their "consultants" – those trained to lock hair in the unique Sisterlocks way – and anyone else "interested in natural hair and natural living." Cornwell adds that in abundance will be "all kinds of excuses to hug each other and be happy about who we are as a people."

Cornwell lives in San Diego but is from Detroit originally, so, of course, she thought it fitting to make her hometown the final stop of a tour that also included Oakland, California, Baltimore and Atlanta. She says, "I wanted to do something special, not just for the general public or our consultant trainees; I wanted to do something special for myself. And it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to share our successes and our ongoing dreams about what Sisterlocks is and what Sisterlocks is becoming. I think a lot of my strengths as a woman, as a black woman (and) as a businesswoman comes from the way I was raised and just the black community that just kind of nurtured me in Detroit."

A particular source of pride for Cornwell is the way that Sisterlocks has been able to train consultants in different cities and allow them to establish their own entrepreneurial operations and thus creating financial independence for black women. "This is a population that is not at the forefront of anybody's economic development movement. We have been the impetus for empowering hundreds and hundreds and hundreds – if not thousands – of our women. They've been able to quit their day jobs, they've been able to work at home and raise their children." All while learning about entrepreneurship and the power of networking, Cornwell says.

While it's great that natural living, products and hairstyles are especially hot right now, Cornwell says it's up to our younger generations to bear in mind the history and the culture and the reasons why we do what we do so that natural hair doesn't become just the latest trend. "Afros came and went in the '60s. It's not assured just because we see some locs on sports players and things like that now," Cornwell says. "This is all really good, but it's not assured unless we act in a way to make sure it's not just a fad." She adds though, "It's fine if it's a fashion trend, too. Sisterlocks has survived as long as it has not because somebody's standing on a stump giving a political speech." It's because it looks good, or as she puts it, "It's just an amazing, versatile, fabulous, glorious way to look."



July 6: Free meet-up, 6-8 p.m.

Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, Detroit

July 7: Expo and evening gala, 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit

For more information on the Freedom Tour or for tickets visit

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