Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TOP STORY >> Beauty school makes history

Leader staff writer

February is Black History Month — the perfect time to celebrate trailblazers like Carla Jones, the first black student to graduate from Arthur’s Beauty College in Jacksonville.

Jones was also the cosmetology school’s first black instructor and has been a valued employee of the family-owned and operated business for more than 30 years as the campus kept growing.

Co-worker Lizzy Smith said, “She’s just a living legend around here. She’s a staple. I think we all count on her. We all come to her for advice. There’s nothing that she doesn’t know. She’s our go-to person…You can’t outwork her. You can’t outsmart her. She gives us something to work toward.”

Gwen Cline added that Jones is “the rock of this school. She’s the one we always lean on. If we’ve got something we need to talk about, we go to Ms. Carla.”

Although students and instructors welcomed her when she enrolled at the school in 1979, she said, “It was kind of hard at first” because the clientele was older and had a different attitude.”

“They weren’t comfortable with me doing their hair because, I guess, they just weren’t used to it (having a black stylist),” she said.

One of the most difficult days was when an instructor led her to a customer who said in front of Jones, “No, I don’t want the little black girl.”

“That was one of the days that I left bawling, you know, went to the bathroom bawling,” Jones said.

“I had a few days of anxiety and a few hospital visits to get some medicine to cope with it until Arthur (the owner), you know, he told them, he said, ‘Look, Carla is one of my students as well and she has to train and learn as well as my other students. And, if you don’t feel comfortable with her doing your hair, then I would ask you not to come back to my school.”

Jones said, “After that, I didn’t have any problems.”

Since then, she has been a guide to others who have faced the same kind of adversity.

“Somebody’s got to be the one that spearheads the opportunity for someone else,” Jones said. “I always tell them keep the main thing, the main thing, and keep your eye on the prize…Don’t let them win.”

She added, “Quitters never win, and winners never quit, so you’ve got to keep on keeping on.”

Now the school, with campuses in Fort Smith, Conway, Jonesboro and Jacksonville, is proud to be racially diverse, Jones noted.

Many students make it past those difficult days fielding a client’s unkind words, Jones said. And it’s “worth a million” to hear that one of her students is still working in the business, she shared.

The 1979 Jacksonville High School graduate knew from a very young age that she wanted to become a cosmetologist.

Cosmetology was her dream because she grew up with it. “Having all those brothers and sisters, and then friends in the neighborhood always wanting me to braid their hair, or do something with their hair. My grandmother always had me to brush her hair and take care of her scalp and stuff,” she said.

“I just loved it. I’ve always loved it, from the time I was about 8 years old,” Jones said.

But her family — a single mom with 12 kids, including Jones’ four older and seven younger siblings — “had no way to pay” the $545 tuition Arthur’s was charging. The children’s father passed away when Jones was 13.

She came to Arthur’s because the school offered a scholarship, with the goal of recruiting black students to attend.

A counselor recommended Jones for the scholarship, and it was awarded to her after she met with then-beauty school owners Arthur and Virginia Doyle.

Their eldest daughter, Chris Strawn, owns the business now.

Jones enrolled at Arthur’s in June 1979 and graduated in February 1980.

Her first job was working as a stylist for Strawn, who had received a salon on Little Rock Air Force Base from her parents for her 21st birthday.

Jones returned to Arthur’s for the 600-hour (about two-month) instructor school after four years at Strawn’s salon.

She was old enough by then to train as an instructor, which was for ages 21 and up. The Doyles had encouraged Jones to become their first black instructor, and she did in 1984 or 1985.

There were 30 to 40 students at Arthur’s when Jones attended the nine-month course she finished in eight and a half months.

Now the student body is a couple hundred strong. Jones said there are about 50 at the Fort Smith campus, 75 in Conway, 50 in Jonesboro and 25-30 in Jacksonville.

Upon finishing instructor school, Jones was hired to supervise night classes.

Then she transferred to Arthur’s corporate office as the director of education.

Her next and current position is director of compliance.

Jones’ job is to make sure all four campuses have up-to-date licenses, their instructors are licensed and all regulations — enforced by the state Board of Cosmetology under the Health Department, the state Department of Education plus an accrediting agency — are being followed.

“It’s a lot of work, but I love it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else…I mean this business will consume you if you let it,” she said.

Jones continued working at the school because of its “family atmosphere.”

She explained, “It’s not like a job. My grandmother once told me that, if you find something to do that you just love to do, you’ll never have to work another day in your life…I have that with this company.”

Jones also owns a salon and works there when she’s not busy at Arthur’s. “I love to cut hair. I love to color hair. I just love it, it’s like a blank canvas. Someone sits in your chair and says, ‘do what you want.’”

She said the cosmetology business is “forever changing, but kind of the same” with new techniques such as using foil in hair coloring rather than pulling strands through caps, as Jones did when she was in school.

Curly hair was popular when the hairstylist got her start, but now straightened hair is the trend.

Jones has been married for 18 years.

The couple had one daughter, who was also a hairstylist but she passed away in 2009.

Jones also enjoys going to the movies, family game nights and being involved in church activities.