“If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors” an African proverb and indubitable truth for the sister duo, Titi and Miko Branch. Growing up in Queens, NY, they were inspired by the life and legacy of their late paternal grandmother, Jessie Branch, and in her honor, the twosome founded Miss Jessie’s. Following the success of their Brooklyn hair salon in 2004, they revolutionized the beauty industry with their much-needed and transformative products for natural and curly hair care. But there can be no triumph without trial, and conquering odds along the way, including family tragedy, is a part of their story.
During the 2014 holiday season, Miko suffered the devastating loss of her older sibling and co-founder, Titi. “We were business partners, but we were also sisters, roommates, and best friends. We co-parented together. So we were really close while she was here on earth,” Miko said.
With the world losing such a trailblazing force that helped many women embrace rocking their natural curls, we all mourned her passing alongside the Branch family. But Titi’s earthly departure also unveiled an unfortunate truth about her struggles with depression. “With my sister, I wish that I were more understanding and patient. Looking back, if I had the opportunity, I would have been more supportive of her. I tried my best, but I see how important it is to be a great listener and truly support all of the different changes your loved one is going through while feeling depressed.”
Titi had a powerful and positive presence while she was here on earth, and it was a feeling she left with us, and now that she’s not here physically, we still feel her.
In death, you gain an ancestor and a spiritual advisor, and because of this, Miko and Titi’s relationship has transcended beyond the physical realm. “I’m still very much connected to Titi. I can feel her presence. I can feel her spirit. I can feel when she’s pleased or displeased, and she’s become a big compass for me. She tells me what to do and what’s not good to do. She’s there with us, and it’s not only me, my whole family. We can feel her. Titi had a powerful and positive presence while she was here on earth, and it was a feeling she left with us, and now that she’s not here physically, we still feel her.”
Almost 20 years later, since the inception of Miss Jessie’s in their Brooklyn brownstone, Miko continues the family legacy while still standing on the shoulders of her ancestors. Specifically, two influential women, her grandmother, and sister who inspired her the most throughout the journey and continues to do so today.
In carrying on the memory of her beloved sister, Miko Branch chatted with BlackLove.com about turning grief into gratitude, navigating the healing process, offering advice for those experiencing a form of depression, and the importance of practicing a daily self-care act to develop a healthy relationship with oneself.
BlackLove.com: In the early days of building Miss Jessie’s, how did you make it work when feeling the added pressure of doing it all as both a single parent and an entrepreneur?
Miko Branch: Honestly, there would be no Miss Jessie’s had I not been a single parent with the desire to provide for my son. I understood that my challenge was going to be difficult. Even though we didn’t have his dad around, I wanted to provide for him. So being my own boss was important. I felt if I tried to be my own boss, my son and I could benefit from the fruits of my labor, but also, he would get a chance to see the process. I also thought I could be a great role model for him, particularly in the absence of his dad not being there.
So building Miss Jessie’s in our brownstone in Brooklyn was key while raising our son. When I say “our,” my sister Titi Branch helped me to raise my son. Having everything in one building was the key to my success as a great mom and a woman building a business with my sister.
BL.com: You and I both experienced tremendous losses in 2014. After losing my mom, I began therapy and, by doing so it has opened my heart to connect with my mother on a spiritual level. Sometimes I find myself talking to my mom because I can feel her presence, and I know she’s guiding me.
MB:That was definitely your mom. The piece about being able to talk about your mom through therapy is helpful in the healing process and on the spiritual level. I’ve spoken with mediums, where they connected me to my sister.
My sister reached out, and she picked the two people she wanted me to speak to. They happened to have been friends of ours who had the special powers but were too embarrassed to let anyone know. So that familiarity was good, and it made me feel comfortable and opened me up to the process. I’m still able to be with Titi, and I appreciate it.
BL.com: What advice can you offer to help support a loved one dealing with depression or another form of mental illness?
MB:I would say offering love to the person and understanding is the key. It is an approach and a method that crosses all lines and smooths out any confusion. I find in our family, particularly on the Black side, which is my father’s side, we have a lot of powerful, strong Black women who believed in doing things yourself. If there was a problem, it was understood that you fixed your problem yourself. I think culturally or socially in my family; there was a lack of sensitivity or patience for someone who might be feeling blue, misty, or confused.
BL.com: Thank you for your honesty. I can relate because, since my mom’s passing, I’ve grown to become more empathetic to people, their feelings, and the various seasons and changes.
Miko:I can definitely see that happening. It certainly makes you look back on time spent with the person that you love that was suffering, and you find yourself making up for it. Or just being all of the things that you would have, could have, or should have been to the person that you love, and that’s no longer here.
BL.com: Do you have a self-care act you believe should be practiced daily?
MB: Yes, talk nicely to yourself. Your relationship with yourself is outside of the relationship you have with your God, and it is one of the most important relationships you’ll ever have. Having positive talks and telling yourself that you’re wonderful is extremely important. I think it leads the way. Once you’re able to have that inner-personal relationship, from that positive or loving place, everything else will align.
I tried my best, but I see how important it is to be a great listener and truly support all of the different changes your loved one is going through while feeling depressed.
BL.com: Maybe this time in quarantine is an opportunity for people to establish a healthy relationship and develop a deeper appreciation within themselves?
MB:It’s so true. You never know what’s going to happen. Especially during this time of COVID-19.It’s not uncommon during this time for many women to move forward with a big chop! You’d be surprised how powerful hair is.
They’re getting rid of old energy, and many people are taking off their lashes, makeup, wigs, and extensions. Some of us, when we remove our hair, we feel very exposed, and we start the process of getting to know ourselves, doing the inner work, and being at peace with our internal being.
There’s no amount of money; there’s no popularity that’s going to make up for it. This is a time for many people to unpeel the orange and understand who they are at the core. I believe a lot of good elements from people will emerge from this challenging time.