Nail Techs Turned Advocates

After building successful nail businesses, these techs set their sights on the greater good. From giving Georgia salon professionals a voice in government to raising pedicure safety standards to putting pressure on Connecticut to add a manicurist license, their accomplishments are everyone’s gain. Get inspired and get involved. 

Tamara Johnson-Shealey: Helping Beauty Find Its Voice
After working as a nail tech for 18 years, Tamara Johnson-Shealey founded Politics Beauty in 2011.

<p>Johnson-Shealey (second from left) advocating at the Georgia Professional Licensing Boards division.</p>

<p>Johnson-Shealey won the 2014 Democratic nomination for the Georgia State Senate, District 40 and is currently a 2016 candidate for the same seat.</p>

Interactions inside nail salons are typically fun and upbeat. Clients leave with polished fingers and toes, smiles, and more confidence than when they came in. Contrast that with interactions inside political arenas. Politics is frequently serious and antagonistic ... and usually no one leaves smiling. Tamara Johnson-Shealey left behind 18 years of being a working nail tech to found and act as senior advocate for Politics Beauty, an organization that gives beauty professionals a voice in Georgia state government.

Johnson-Shealey’s new life with Politics Beauty hasn’t been easy, she says, but it has been necessary. “Being an advocate has not been as joyous as being a nail tech,” says Johnson-Shealey, who believes this work is her calling in life. “I felt compelled, as if my life depended on it. I just surrendered to what I knew God had called me to do.” She no longer provides nail services. “I was spending so much time thinking about the state of the industry and what could be done that providing services was no longer my driving force,” she says.

<p>Johnson-Shealey (fourth from left) and other Politics Beauty members and City Council member Jimmy Dickens Sr., who is also a licensed barber (far left), at Beauty Industry Day at the Capitol 2016.</p>

Johnson-Shealey now rallies for positive legislation that protects the professional and the consumer.  Politics Beauty’s first priority is continuing education for beauty professionals. Its second priority is state-to-state uniformity in industry standards, and its third priority is organizing professionals in collaboration with other organizations to deter deregulation.

Since founding Politics Beauty in 2011, Johnson-Shealey has made important strides toward the organization’s goals. “Number one, starting was a success. I feel very accomplished that we are almost five years into this and still going strong,” she says. “Second, I would say loyalty of our members. I celebrate those who continue forth with our efforts. Third, I would say, our connections/collaborations. We are garnering attention and support from other organizations, beauty shows, and social media, and for that, I feel we are a success.”

<p>The Concerned Beauty Professionals secured a Health and Safety Federal Alliance in 2013 with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology.</p>

In 2013, Politics Beauty launched an annual signature event, which it plans to expand in 2017. Currently, “Beauty Industry Day at the Capitol” is held the first Monday in February at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. The event encourages licensed beauty professionals to get comfortable with the legislative process while Politics Beauty fosters an organized approach to advocating for the industry.

Johnson-Shealey has also taken her advocacy a step further by running for state office. She won the 2014 Democratic nomination for Georgia State Senate, District 40, but lost in the general election, and is currently a 2016 candidate for the same seat. “I finished really strong for a new candidate with 37% of the votes. I am even more confident this time with some name recognition under my belt,” she says. “We so desperately need licensed beauty professionals to run and serve in public office. We have a uniqueness that allows us to hear the needs of others and serve on a higher level.”<p>Johnson-Shealey (front row, second from left) also founded The Concerned Beauty Professionals, which provides nail tech continuing education.</p>

Nail professionals who want to get involved with advocacy can join Politics Beauty for $95 a year ($65 for students). The fee includes membership to its sister organization, The Concerned Beauty Professionals, also founded by Johnson-Shealey in 2011. “The Concerned Beauty Professionals is our health, safety, and sanitation continuing education organization,” Johnson-Shealey explains. “Our members can receive up to eight hours of CEUs annually, which includes information from OSHA, Georgia Tech, and various alliance partners. Mostly recently, we have conducted our own scientific salon research study with the University of Minnesota.”

In 2017, Politics Beauty will be introducing legislation to reform continuing education in states that currently require CEUs. It will hold Beauty Industry Day at the Capitol on February 6, 2017. “As long as we are bringing new professionals into the industry, this work will never end,” says Johnson-Shealey. “I just hope that enough professionals will get involved where the load gets lighter. As for me, my future in this industry is to provide a higher level of continuing education in health, safety, and sanitation and to work politically to harness the power of licensed beauty professionals.”


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Debra Bourque and Kimberly Kennedy: Jumping In With Both Feet
Pedicurists Debra Bourque and Kimberly Kennedy advocate, educate, and support the industry via the International Pedicure Association.

<p>Kennedy (left) and Bourque can be spotted advocating, educating, and supporting at industry events.</p>

Sometimes it’s not what you know but the realization that there is so much you do not know that spurs you to take your life in a different direction. That was the case for Debra Bourque, BSc.Pod, CPod(I), CMP, and Kimberly Kennedy, who are the new owners/operators of the International Pedicure Association (IPA).

“My ‘aha’ moment came during my first level of advanced education,” says Bourque, who is IPA’s owner, executive director of member services, and lead educator. “I was actually concerned that I might have put clients, family, and friends at risk because I didn’t know enough about the feet or how to perform a safe and proper pedicure. That’s when I knew that all pedicurists would benefit from more education.” Kennedy, who is the IPA’s executive director of operations, says, “It was a series of events that prompted me to become an advocate for the pedicure industry. After a few years of performing pedicures and encountering various conditions of the feet, I realized there was so much more I needed to know to help my clients and to protect myself.”

<p>Pedicure spa chairs can hide bacteria if not cleaned properly. The IPA helps educate techs on appropriate sanitation and disinfection protocols.</p>

The pair assumed ownership of the IPA in June of 2015. Both had been involved in the association for many years prior. “I first learned about the IPA 10 years ago while attending my first level of advanced pedicure education through the North American School of Podology,” Bourque says. Kennedy says, “In 2007, at the Premiere Orlando Show, I attended one of IPA founder Dr. Arnold’s classes and knew immediately there was so much more to pedicuring than I could have ever imagined. Pedicuring goes way beyond just making feet pretty. I needed to make them healthy! A person’s life could seriously be altered and affected from the simple luxury of getting a pedicure.” Both Bourque and Kennedy still do nails professionally but are in the process of tapering down their nail businesses in order to focus more attention on the IPA.

“The IPA is the perfect platform to advocate, educate, and provide support to pedicurists across North America. We are on a mission to make industry changes,” Bourque says. Under the advocacy arm, the IPA focuses on safety, education, and awareness for both techs and consumers, elevation of pedicure disinfection standards, requirements for advanced education for pedicuring, and working toward a national standard of regulation instead of the current system of varying state regulations.

<p>Bourque teaches a class on the BS Brace, a product on IPA&rsquo;s approved items list.</p>

Both Kennedy and Bourque concede that change will be slow, but they are proud of what they have already accomplished. Since June 2015, they have added new products to the IPA’s list of approved items. (The IPA approves and/or endorses products, equipment, advanced education providers, tools/implements, and supplies that meet high safety standards and lists them on its website.) They have strengthened the IPA’s relationship with podiatrists. They have also increased the value of membership by adding benefits and sponsoring advanced educational classes across the United States. Bourque adds, “We have become the go-to place for pedicurists. We get pictures, questions, and even concerns from consumers almost daily.”

Perhaps most important, the IPA’s footprint is growing. “There is strength in numbers and as the IPA grows its members, our voice for change gets louder,” Kennedy says. Bourque echoes that sentiment. “I don’t consider it courageous to advocate because I am not alone. The IPA members are really all working together to make these changes and to be heard.”

The IPA will continue to champion pedicurist education and high standards for the foreseeable future. “To me, there could be no accomplishment that would eliminate the need for advocacy,” Kennedy says. “There will always be a need for advocacy because there are always changes that happen within the industry. An example is bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and fungi are ever morphing (for many reasons) and the disinfectants used to combat them must change to ensure safe pedicuring.” For techs who want the latest pedicure-related education, an IPA membership is well worth it, the owners say. IPA membership includes free monthly educational webinars, discounts on IPA-approved products, other advanced education opportunities, and a critical opportunity to advocate for safe pedicures.

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Temeka Jackson:  Persuading Stars to Align
After a cross-country move that almost jeopardized her livelihood, Temeka Jackson fights for a manicurist license for Connecticut nail techs.

<p>Jackson holds her hard-won California nail tech license.</p>

At first glance, Temeka Jackson seems so at home doing nails for celebrity clients at their Los Angeles residences that an onlooker might mistake her as being born and bred in California. But Jackson’s road to becoming a licensed nail tech in California was full of false starts, detours, and devastating potholes. She’s now determined to help pave the way for other nail techs from her home state of Connecticut, which is the last of the 50 states to not regulate manicuring via a government-issued license. Jackson advocates for turning Connecticut into a nail tech licensing state and says she will not consider her advocacy successful until there is bi-directional reciprocity with California.

Jackson currently works full-time as a nail tech in Los Angeles, doing home visits for clients including Vanessa Simmons (from “Project Runway”) and Alexis Spight (from “Sunday Best”) and also seeing clients at Enamel Diction salon in Los Angeles’ Mid-City neighborhood. Still, Jackson’s love of her hometown of New Haven, Conn., shines through her conversation; she does nails there during visits and cites it as the source of much of the inspiration for her current drive.

As one of the only black nail techs in Connecticut, Jackson says she was discriminated against when she first entered the profession. Clients, she says, would choose to wait for her established Asian counterparts rather than give “the black girl that does nails” a chance. But as her skillset grew, so did her clientele. “Although it was hard, it inspired me to bring something new and exciting to Connecticut,” Jackson says now. “I am one who likes to attack challenges head on and use them as ammunition to be a stronger person. Being discriminated against only made me work harder on the creative end so that when clients saw my work their attention would be grabbed immediately!” That head-on attitude became her biggest asset when making her cross-country move.

<p>Jackson does nails for Justina Pelletier while Pelletier is hospitalized. The Connecticut teen became a fan of Jackson when she saw Jackson on &ldquo;Nail&rsquo;d It.&rdquo;</p>

Because Connecticut has no nail tech license (and certainly did not have reciprocity with California, which has one of the highest government standards for nail techs in the country), Jackson had to re-enter nail school. “I actually had to enroll twice during my career. There was the initial enrollment at the beginning of my career. In Connecticut, you are only given a nail technician certificate; you are not informed that the certificate doesn’t have weight outside the borders of Connecticut,” she says. “I only found this information out once I put in motion the task of moving to California, where I then learned that I needed to not only re-enroll into a nail technician program but I also had to take another examination in order to be a certified nail technician in California.” If that exam had gone smoothly, that may have been the end of this story. But Jackson, despite achieving nationwide acclaim in NAILS’ Next Top Nail Artist Season One competition and on the TV reality show “Nail’d It,” failed the California nail tech licensing exam — not once but twice.

“My first exam was in October of 2014, and I finally passed the exam in March 2015,” Jackson says. Jackson had already been doing nails professionally for 10 years when the she failed two exam segments: practicals for basic manicure and tip application/sculpture, demonstrations she felt she could do in her sleep. After re-doing nail school and traveling across the country to take an exam for work she had spent a decade doing, Jackson realized there has to be a better way for nail techs to relocate without jeopardizing their careers. A second exam with wrong information given by the proctor led to a third examination. “Which would be OK if I were a resident of California,” Jackson says. “But I had to travel the 3,000+ miles from Connecticut to retake the exam not once, not twice, but three times. I was not a happy camper, but I did what I had to do because coming to L.A. and pursuing this career full time was what I wanted. And I was determined to make it a reality, one way or another.”

Once she accomplished her own dream, she set out to help other Connecticut nail techs. She started by contacting the governor of Connecticut. “I figured, why not go directly to the top?” Jackson says. But she was advised to contact her local legislative representative instead — someone she’d contacted several times but has yet to receive a response from. “Because of the lack of response, I’ve just continued to research how I can make an improvement and have continued to find different avenues to advocate for nail technicians,” she says. Her research has included meeting with an advocate who helped Utah, one of the other last regulatory holdouts, finally pass nail tech licensing. She plans to continue reaching out to non-responsive legislators and encourages other nail techs to join in the fight.

“The licensing should encompass both sanitation requirements and offer reciprocity with other states,” says Jackson. “Other nail technicians in Connecticut feel the same way, and have given me support in making this a licensing state.”


Get Involved!

Connecticut-based nail techs can email Jackson at [email protected].


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