Business

From Homelessness to Hairstylist: Early Struggles Spur Beautician to Success

Evalyn “Evie” Johnson has traveled the world to share the hair care techniques she’s honed over 20 years.

She’s taught natural hair styling in Los Angeles and hair-loss prevention in Australia. She’ll be featured in New Zealand next month at the International Association of Trichologists’ Hairdressing Conference.

“I do a lot of speaking engagements, so I travel a lot,” said Johnson, 38, of Bowie, Maryland.

Her jet-setting lifestyle as a celebrated stylist and co-owner of the E&E Hair Studio in Mitchellville is ironic, since her family were once so poor that her parents couldn’t afford to send Johnson or her 11 siblings on field trips around D.C.

“We were homeless,” Johnson said. “We slept in cars sometimes. We ate syrup sandwiches and mayonnaise sandwiches. We lived where there was no power.”

Johnson attributes the family’s poverty largely to her father’s heroin abuse, which led to his incarceration at D.C.’s prison in Lorton, Virginia. In his absence, the Johnsons lived on public assistance, she said.

When she reached adolescence, little Evie rebelled. At 13, she got pregnant by her boyfriend, Antonio Reed Jr., then 15. They both lived at the city’s homeless shelter at 14th and Park Street NW.

Her mother dispatched her to Lorton to inform her father, the only time she visited him behind bars. Julius Peterson made her promise not to get pregnant again until marriage. In return, he promised to kick heroin.

When her son, Antonio III, was 2 months old, he became ill with Kawasaki disease, which causes inflammation of blood-vessel walls. He spent seven months at D.C. General Hospital.

Each day, Johnson attended school, then hopped trains and buses to the medical facility, where she studied and nurtured her baby.

“It was important for me to do well for him,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want him to think that his mother wasn’t smart.”

The Washington Post highlighted Johnson in 1994 for graduating with a 4.0 GPA from then-Kelly Miller Junior High School. She was 15.

“I was on cloud nine,” Johnson said. “It was a matter of proving — against the odds and what people said — that I could accomplish everything that I was supposed to accomplish.”

After beauty school, Johnson worked at area salons before she and Earlisa Larry, who she met at a J.C. Penney salon, opened E&E Hair Solutions in Largo in 2006. They moved a few blocks to the current salon earlier this year.

Johnson specializes in natural styles, hair bleaching and hair-loss reversal. She co-founded Stuart Edmondson Hair Loss and Restoration, which makes products to improve thinning hair.

Johnson also is a master stylist for Mizani, a L’Oréal hair products company, and works as a platform stylist at hair shows. She has coiffed such entertainment notables as Tasha Smith, Ari Nicole Parker and Trey Songz. She has styled artists for the Grammy and BET awards.

Johnson and husband Joe, a transportation project manager, have four children in their blended family: Taquan, 24, a writer and actor; Antonio, recently graduate of the University of Pennsylvania; Taleya, 17, a high school senior; and Jordan, 15, an accomplished basketball player.

Johnson said memories of the hard times keep her moving forward.

“I’m excelling, but I’m still growing,” she said.

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Avis Thomas-Lester

Urban News Service

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