The pop superstar turns fairy godmother by funding a DUMBO–based cosmetology center to help give those struggling with addiction a new career and direction

By Catherine Gigante-Brown • Photos By Ben Hider

To prepare for her role as the drug-tortured singer Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, Beyoncé Knowles visited New York’s Phoenix House, an independent nonprofit substance abuse treatment center, and one of the nation’s leading providers of alcohol and drug abuse treatment and prevention services. Even as she witnessed that facility have a hand in teaching skills from cooking to carpentry, the singer noticed that something was missing from its job training center: a cosmetology school.

With a little help from her mom, Beyoncé decided to change that.

“My background is owning a hair salon,” said Tina Knowles, the superstar’s mother and business partner. “So we thought it would be a great idea to open a cosmetology center. Beyoncé donated her salary from Cadillac Records, which became the seed money to open it. I’m very proud of that.”

The Beyoncé Cosmetology Center officially opened its doors in March 2010, as part of Phoenix House’s Career Academy at 50 Jay Street, and both Knowles ladies presided over its jubilant ribbon-cutting ceremony. In an emotional press conference, Beyoncé said, “I realized how every woman walked out of my mom’s salon was looking and feeling beautiful. But most importantly, I saw the joy it brought my mother, knowing she was a part of their transformation.”

“We were thrilled when they told us they wanted to make a difference…to contribute in a long-lasting impactful way, not simply in the form of a donation,” explained Karen Sodomick, Phoenix House’s Vice President and Director of Marketing and Communications. “This extraordinary gift empowers people in recovery by giving them vocational skills they need to succeed.”

H&S Spread

More than four years later, the Knowles ladies continue their involvement in the center’s development, including opening doors of additional inspiration.

“Neal Farinah, one of Beyoncé’s stylists, often comes in, does demonstrations, and offers lessons,” said Sodomick. “He’s generous with his time, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for our clients to work with one of the industry’s very best.”

The center itself is expansive, flooded with natural light, streamlined and modern, with tall ceilings and exposed brick walls. In addition to hair-cutting basics, its free, seven-month cosmetology training program for adults teaches comprehensive, valuable marketable skills, including nail tech expertise, how to operate salon software, and establishing solid customer service practices. Over the course of the program, attendees receive the necessary practical and theory skills to meet the New York State Cosmetology Licensure Exam requirements. An adult business and trade school licensed by the New York State Educational Department (Bureau of Proprietary School Supervision), the center also offers job placement assistance.

“Both our day and evening classes are filled to capacity,” Sodomick said. “Our partnership with the Department of Education has enabled us to open the program to underserved individuals in the surrounding communities who don’t have the resources to attend a private cosmetology school.”

“In beauty school, some of the people didn’t have a big educational background or graduate from high school, but when they got on the hair, they became artists, poets, and psychologists,” Tina Knowles offered. “It brought out their confidence. Phoenix House helps people get their lives back on track.”

“My mother and I believe that anyone can succeed with a little help,” added Beyoncé. “The center can help these women and men to achieve their goals, to be independent, self-fulfilled ,and ultimately help in their recovery process.”

“Through this gesture, they’ve demonstrated a deep understanding that addiction is not a moral failing, but a chronic medical condition,” added Sodomick. “No one chooses to become an addict, and this disease can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender, or class. Beyoncé and Tina Knowles have taken a huge step in helping people begin a new career journey and a new life. We could never thank them enough.”

Beyoncé Cosmetology Center
at Phoenix House Career Academy
50 Jay St. / phoenixhouse.org/beyonce-cosmetology-center