Locked Out: A Mississippi Success Story

As a film & video producer, I count myself among an exceptionally small group of people who are lucky enough to get to spend each and every day doing what we love to do.

I say this even as I am in the middle of one of the most stressful two weeks of my life.

020By the end of the run, I’ll have racked up about 4,000 miles traveling through 9 different states. I’ll have completed production work on 2 major events; shot everything and begun the editing process for a biographical video; filmed 3 more interviews for an in-progress documentary; and screened my latest film, “Locked Out” at a Landmark theater in Atlanta and the Tribeca Film Center in New York City.

Even in its worst moments, I know I have a pretty amazing job. It’s a job that I simply love to do. There’s almost no such thing as being overworked.

I really believe that if everyone felt the same way about what they do for a living, the world would be filled with passionate, happy people.

Most people just aren’t that lucky.

Not everyone knows what they want. Not everyone can or wants to develop a skill that is also commercially useful. Not everyone will always be successful. And most of us (myself very much included) will have to go through a long string of less-than-satisfying jobs before finding the ones that work for us.

Those are just immutable facts of life.

But those aren’t the only reasons a lot of people don’t get the jobs they want. Far more often than most people realize, bad laws and government restrictions flat out prevent people from finding well-paid work that they’re actually passionate about.

Every day I work with people for whom this is the case.

One of those people, Melony Armstrong, is the subject of the film I’m screening in New York in two days. Melony is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Almost 20 years ago, she found her career passion—hair braiding—but when she tried to open the first professional hair braiding salon in Mississippi and use her skills to earn a living and support her family, she hit a wall called the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology.

The MSBC blocked Melony’s attempts to work professionally as a hair braider by demanding that she first obtain a full cosmetology license at the cost of nearly $10,000 and years of training, none of which taught a thing about hair braiding. Most people facing those kinds of obstacles would give up. In fact, every person in Mississippi who hit that same barrier before Melony did give up.

But Melony fought back.

When I learned about her story, I knew I wanted to tell it. That’s why I made “Locked Out”. Watch the trailer:

Melony’s battle with the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology ultimately cost her 7 years, but in the end, her victory not only opened up opportunities for hundreds of young women who shared her passion for natural hair, it set a precedent to reduce licensing restrictions across the country. When she started her fight, 37 states required cosmetology licenses to braid hair. Now, 28 states do, and each year that number drops.

And sure, you might think that hair braiding isn’t that important… But chances are pretty good that you know someone who wants to work in a field right now and isn’t allowed to without a costly, and probably unnecessary permit.

A few decades ago, 1 in 20 occupations required a special license to operate. Today, it’s 1 in 3.

Want to be an interior designer? In Nevada, you need to spend 6 years in training and take a state-approved exam. Think you might have what it takes to trim trees? In California, you’ll need to get 4 years of training, pass 2 state-approved exams, and cough up $851. Maybe you just want to be an athletic trainer. In Illinois, that’s going to be 4 years in training, an exam, and $500.

Pre-school teachers, barbers, make-up artists, skin care specialists, door repairmen… Even florists in some states are required to obtain costly government permission just to earn a living.

Right now, the list is endless. But it needs to end.

For a lot of people, entrepreneurship—and even simply access to a variety of employment options—is the way to wealth and empowerment. Yet restrictions like the ones Melony faced push people into poverty, trap them in cycles of dependency, and prevent people from earning a good living doing something they actually want to do.

“Locked Out” is available to watch for free at www.honestenterprise.tv. I hope you’ll watch it and share it with your friends. Maybe it will inspire others to stand up to ridiculous laws like Melony did, and help more people achieve their dreams and get the jobs they really want.

Sean Malone

Sean Malone is a producer at Citizen A Media, a creative media production company based in Washington, DC.

  • Matt Edwards

    Excellent topic and subjects. Well done!