Brandi Ahzionae of Southeast D.C. was at the official launch of the cityâ€™s transgender rights campaign at Mova on 14th Street, N.W., last September when she met Montgomery County hairstylist Consuella Lopez.
Lopez, who appeared in the campaign the D.C. Office of Human Rights created, began speaking with Ahzionae through Facebook and other social media networks.
Ahzionae, who had just enrolled in Project Empowerment, a D.C. jobs initiative designed to reduce unemployment and poverty rates among trans Washingtonians, declined Lopez’s invitation to model for a calendar she was producing for Casa Ruby, a multicultural LGBT community center in Northwest Washington. Lopez subsequently invited Ahzionae to become her apprentice at NivĂˇl Salon and Spa in Chevy Chase, Md., where she worked at the time.
She accepted the offer.
â€śShe was like, what do you want to do with your life?â€ť Ahzionae told the Washington Blade during a recent interview. â€śWe talked more about that. She was like, great, I can help you do that. She then pulled me to the salon and then started the apprenticeship thing and itâ€™s been great ever sense.â€ť
Ahzionae now works alongside Lopez in the studio she opened inside an old dance studio near Bethesda Row in Bethesda, Md., in May.
Lopez, who is a licensed senior stylist in Maryland, is able to license Ahzionae as an apprentice for two years. Ahzionae will be able to obtain her own license at the end of her two-year apprenticeship in May 2015 if she passes a test.
In the meantime, Ahzionae is attending classes once a week at Aesthetics Institute of Cosmetology in Gaithersburg, Md., that the schoolâ€™s director offered to her for free.
â€śWe are working together as a team now,â€ť Ahzionae said, adding she has also begun to build her own clientele. â€śI am her left hand in the salon.â€ť
Lopez, who transitioned in 1992 when she was 18, began working in hair salons as an assistant when she was a child.
She and a friend in 2006 opened a salon and day spa in Georgetown that closed after 19 months. Lopez subsequently began working at NivĂˇl â€“ formerly the Ted Gibson Salon and Hela Spa â€“ in Chevy Chase in 2008.
Lopez â€“ who has worked with Anna Wintour, Patricia Arquette, Tracy Edmonds, Mila Kunis, Mindy Cohen, the Real Housewives of D.C. and other celebrities â€“ told the Blade during an interview at her studio late last month that she feels it is important to provide trans people opportunities that â€śmost girls donâ€™t have.â€ť
Ahzionae became homeless after her mother died when she was 13. She was also incarcerated for seven years due to what she described as the “result of lifestyle.”
â€śI donâ€™t want that to happen to anybody,â€ť Lopez told the Blade. â€śIf I were in that situation I would want someone to help me.â€ť
She further stressed she believes in Ahzionae and â€śshe has shown me.â€ť
â€śShe shows up to work, daily, in and out,â€ť Lopez said. â€śShe is working it right and still having clients in between.â€ť
â€śI think sheâ€™s doing really, really well,â€ť Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, who has worked with Lopez since 2011, told the Blade on Tuesday. â€śIâ€™m so glad that she found Consuella whoâ€™s mentoring her.â€ť
As for Ahzionae, she hopes she will be able to continue to give back to her community.
She had written for VenusPlusX, a website co-founded by D.C. activists Alison Gardner and Dan Massey that advocates for sexual freedom.
Ahzione now produces a newsletter called the DMV Trans Circulator that seeks to create what its website describes as a â€śtrans community inside and outside the prison walls in D.C., Md., and Va.â€ť that is â€śfree from imprisonment, police violence, racism and poverty.â€ť She recently received a grant from the Diverse City Fund, which supports groups that work among communities of color.
Ahzione also looks to continue to give back at the salon and the clients with whom she works.
â€śMy job is to make everything OK,â€ť she said. â€śIf I drop the ball, everything goes wrong. Thereâ€™s a lot of work to be done, but I welcome the challenge and I think Iâ€™m tackling it pretty well.â€ť
Ahzione also remains thankful to Lopez for inviting her to work with her.
â€śPeople donâ€™t care about trans women trying to make a difference,â€ť she said.â€ť They donâ€™t care and she does.â€ť