Giving the Gift of Empowerment to Homeless and Battered Women

Today’s American Success Salute goes to Tanisha Akinloye, the founder and CEO of Trumbull, Conn.-based Empowering Through Beauty – a nonprofit that provides free makeovers and beauty services to help homeless, battered, and low-income women know their inner and outer beauty.

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In 2008, Akinloye opened a hair salon in a low-income area of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Her salon was a hit – in part due to her excellent customer service skills, and ability to connect with customers while she did their hair. But as she got to know her clients, she discovered problems that couldn’t be solved with a cream rinse.

“They shared what they were going through, a lot of trauma. Different abuse – mental and physical, and I just felt so bad hearing their stories and knowing full well that they couldn’t afford to get their hair done; they were only there to feel better,” Akinloye said. “I was looking to make some money and be successful, but when I got in there and I heard what the people were going through, a big part of me felt bad charging them when they needed the money to feed themselves.”

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Akinloye found herself telling clients to just pay her next time, or that this time, the haircut was on the house. She said it was bizarre – she was losing money, but for some reason she never felt happier. After speaking with her pastor, Akinloye said she knew she had found a calling bigger than the four walls of her salon and decided to dedicate her life to helping women realize their true beauty.

So in 2011, she closed her salon’s doors and opened Empowering Through Beauty – an organization that has provided more than 500 low-income individuals with hair care, makeup, skincare, manicures and pedicures. The majorities of her clients are homeless, live in battered women’s shelters or are referred to her through church assistance programs.

“They’re all low-income, some are just working to just make ends meet, some feel hopeless,” Akinloye said. “We provide the services free of charge and help the women when they go into job interviews and are not making enough to get a haircut or get a makeover for the interview.”

Beyond beauty treatments, Akinloye offers seminars, lectures, and personal TLC to all of her clients to empower them and to build their confidence and self-esteem.

“As a hair stylist it’s all good, but you have to be able to balance things. Hair and makeup is all good, but it’s about knowing who you are inside, loving who you are inside,” Akinloye said. “It’s about the joy and the love and support you have for yourself and for others around you. No matter what, you have to love the inside just like you love that haircut.”

Empowering Through Beauty partners with three Connecticut beauty parlors to give their clients the salon experience free of charge.

“Our partners are amazing,” Akinloye said. “To be able to walk into a salon like any other woman and get their hair done; they are treated with love, not like someone from a program; they are treated like everyone else.”

Akinloye said it’s been a tough road getting Empowering Through Beauty off the ground, but the rewards she reaps back from what she puts in are disproportionately large.

“It’s not easy when you have to hear the stories, standing on your feet all day, working, not getting any pay. It’s not easy, but when you’re called to do something it doesn’t matter, you just get it done. I feel the joy and the peace, and I feel complete,” Akinloye said. “It just feels right and it’s not about the money. It’s about doing the right thing, showing the love and getting there to support people who are at their lowest. It just feels overwhelmingly good.”

In the Salute to American Success series, FBN’s Charles Payne puts the spotlight on self-made entrepreneurs, who – like him, are living proof that the American Dream is real.