Written By Sergy Odiduro
February 29, 2024 at 8:46 PM

FIU professor Imani Warren is hosting a series of events throughout 2024 to highlight the history of Sunlight School of Beauty Culture. (Photo courtesy of Imani Warren)

Imani L. Warren was born in a city where her artistic embers were continuously stoked.
“Philadelphia is a hub for all kinds of things and that’s where my mom introduced me into the world of museums and art,” she says.

Enamored, her interests only intensified as an adult, leading to a feverish pursuit of all things creative. As a result, a series of colorful projects were scattered across several cities. And whether she was in Houston, Chicago, New Orleans or South Carolina, she always made her mark. This was especially true in Atlanta and Savannah.

“Georgia has always been my second home,” she says.

There she planted her educational roots and from its tree she plucked a bachelors from Savannah State University and a postgraduate degree from Savannah College of Art and Design. But now with both feet firmly set in Miami, she has finally started working on her childhood dream.

“I always wanted to have my own little art museum,” says Warren “I love history and I love art. And I’ve always wanted to find out how I can mix the two.”

But as any artist knows, a dream without a way to fund it, is challenging at best.

“I have these million dollar ideas. I just don’t have million dollar money,” she says with a laugh. But a recent $10,000 grant from Florida Humanities is helping to change that.

A representation of a vintage salon at the school. (Photo Courtesy of Imani Warren)

The funds, awarded to Warren and the Florida International University’s Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab, where she is a professor, are now being used towards what she has called her “pet project”.

“Black Beauty as an Act of Resistance: The Story of Sunlight School of Beauty Culture” is a way to offer a glimpse into a world that some may not know about and others may have forgotten.

Founded by Jamaican immigrants, David and Lurel Julius, the Overtown cosmetology school offered African-American women classes to pass the Florida Cosmetology Licensing Exam from 1936 to 1970. At one point, the salon became a magnet for celebrities while launching a legion of graduates who veered towards self sufficiency by pursuing entrepreneurship.

An interview with Dr. Gwen Robinson. Her parents, David and Lurel Julius, were founders of the cosmetology school. (Photo Courtesy of Imani Warren)

To bring this history to light, Warren sidestepped a lack of funding by tapping into a wealth of knowledge and resources found right in her community.

“I interviewed all these amazing women about their lives and learned how phenomenal they were during their heyday,” says Warren.

Since arming herself with a beauty shop full of memories, Warren has continuously shone a spotlight on the school through a variety of installations and events including a pop up museum at the Dunns Josephine hotel.

An example of a uniform worn by students at the Sunlight School of Beauty Culture. (Photo Courtesy of Imani Warren )

Now with the grant’s funding, the scope of the project has grown and events are slated to be spread out over the course of this year. Those interested in additional information about the ongoing project can check for future events on the Dunns Josephine hotel website.

Warren’s aim is to spark conversations on culture and beauty and what that means once it filtered through an ethnic lens. She also hopes to offer a historical and cultural perspective on the overall impact the school and its students made on the community.

Framed memorabilia from the Sunlight School of Beauty Culture. The program prepared students for the Florida Cosmetology Licensing Exam. (Photo Courtesy of Imani Warren)

“These stories are sacred and they need to be shared,” says Warren.

“This is about having economic empowerment. And they weren’t just surviving. Even in segregated Miami these black women were thriving.”

Florida Humanities Funded Spotlight Program: Black Beauty as an Act of Resistance: An Exhibit on Miami’s First Black Cosmetology School is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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