Even after interviewing DeDe Thompson, I am exceptionally unqualified to discuss her profession of hair braiding. I have zero experience with braids, wigs and all the hair fashions with which she makes her living.

Fortunately, I’m better at spotting an interesting story, and this is one of them. When the McComb school board this week approved a plan for Thompson to teach a hair braiding class at the McComb Business & Technology Center this school year, there was some negative reaction to it.

“I feel like home economics would be a better use of time and state funding, or just a class that teaches life skills — working, paying bills, taxes, insurance,” said one post on the newspaper’s Facebook page.

I’ll bet plenty of people feel the same way. Thompson, naturally, disagrees — and offers a spirited rebuttal. Specifically, she says hair braiding is a career where people can make good money.

“The hair business is a billion-dollar industry now,” she observed. “Why shouldn’t we give kids a skill to help themselves along with the process? It was given to me.”

Thompson, who grew up in Magnolia, learned how to braid in the late 1990s. At first she just did it for a little extra cash, but her business kept growing. Eventually she started working in a hair salon.

That led to her own business, Diedre’s Braid Gallery, in the shopping center on the corner of North Broadway and Georgia Avenue. She has since bought a building on Main Street downtown, where she teaches braiding at Diva Stylz Braid School.

Today she owns three buildings in the city and has licenses in cosmetology, cosmetology instruction and even “wigology.” It’s pretty obvious that she’s done well in the hair business.

“My thing is, some might go work in salons,” Thompson said, referring to her upcoming 25 students at McComb. “Some might take it to college, where they can work in their dorm and make $1,000 a week. It will give them a skill that they can take with them wherever they go.”

Thompson said she and B&T principal Robert Biggs had been talking about the class for a couple of years, but did not get serious about it until last fall.

“What caught my attention was, they put up the signs, ‘We Want More,’ she said, referring to the district’s slogan. “I was like, it’s time for me to see how we can incorporate this into the school system.”

Thompson said the year-long class will be open to juniors and seniors, and students must have a 2.0 grade point average to get in. She said if their GPA falls below that, they have to withdraw from the class.

“We’re trying to get them to see that in order to be successful in life, you’ve got to be disciplined,” she added.

She said she is going to reduce her Diva Stylz instruction to focus on her teaching duties at McComb. She also expects to cut back on her braiding work, giving preference to long-time customers.

She’s excited about the opportunity to teach teenagers about braiding, but she also is nervous about the project.

“I stay nervous,” she said. “I like it. If you’re overconfident, you mess something up. I just trust God for what I do.

“I’m not afraid. There’s a different between nervous and afraid.”

Thompson believes there is a market for more trained braiders. As evidence, she said she rents one of her buildings to six women from Africa who learned braiding when they were children. Why, she asks, shouldn’t people from McComb learn how to do this?

“It can be a business,” she added. “And it’s a good business. A successful business.”

My thinking is that it’s worth giving this class a shot. If only a few of the 25 students make some money off braiding, then the school will have done a good thing.

Braiding is a totally non-traditional class, and that probably is why people question it. Two responses:

First, people always complain that schools never try anything different. Well, this class may be the first of its kind in the state. That’s about as different as you can get.

Also, how many people make a living from other high school programs like music courses or athletics? Not many, but they learned a lot by participating.

Hair braiding may sound odd, but it’s obvious that people spend a lot of money on it. I’m giving the class a chance instead of belittling it.

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