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BLACK WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS BRING SELF CARE TO LIFE

October 8, 2019
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“Transitioning. In all the ways.” 

Tara Purnell, of the wellness company Blind Seed, wasn’t just describing the impending shift between seasons. Purnell, also known as Tara Aura, and the company’s other founder, Sara Elise, were describing the energy needed to get organized this fall and the necessity of settling down. “Summer to fall is a lovely harvest season. There’s a lot of energy,” Tara tells me over the phone from New York City’s Rubin Museum. The pair was enjoying tea as we discussed their shift from traditional corporate careers into a joint endeavor and community healing. “Even though I’m so busy, I need to focus on grounding and recalibrating,” Sara says. 

This balancing act speaks to the pair as well. Sara, they agree, is Blind Seed’s digital, logistical impresario. Tara is the analog, communicative one. They both have a reason to be busy — several, actually. While managing their individual ventures — Tara is a certified yoga practitioner, and Sara founded the wellness catering company Harvest & Revel — they combine their talents for Blind Seed. The POC-run and queer-friendly wellness company hosts workshops and provides corporate and individual training to enhance participants’ physical and spiritual well-being. “We curate wellness experiences to expand access for all people,” Tara tells me. But in our expansive, nearly one-hour conversation, it becomes clear that their work goes even deeper, embracing spirituality, self care, and what they refer to as community care. 

“We host retreat events, urban workshops, and corporate activations — like if a company wants us to host a team-building event for their board of directors,” Sara explained, describing the nuts and bolts. “We also do manifestation coaching on a one-on-one basis with different clients. That usually happens when someone comes to one of our events and they want to deepen their personal practice or meet with us on an individual basis.” 

The personal sessions are customized for each client. “We affirm people in the process that they’re currently on,” says Sara, “and we bring them the resources to create customized care packages for themselves.”

Tara Aura of Blind Seed (photo: Texas Isaiah)

Their work doesn’t end with nurturing self-care practices. What sets these entrepreneurs apart is their advocacy of community care, and their understanding of the distinct needs of people of color in a wellness marketplace that often excludes us as both clients and providers. Community care is “what we do across the diaspora,” Tara says. “Black communities gather together. We support each other. We affirm each other. We hold each other. We breathe together. It feels natural for us to hold space together and remove some of those toxic ideas of not measuring up, not being good enough. These ideas align with some colonial mentalities or religious overtones that you are sinning in one way or another, or that you look different than you should, or you don’t have the right proximity to whiteness.” 

Unintentionally, our conversation itself began to feel like a space for community care, particularly as we unpacked the individual challenges that threaten their well-being and re-traced how those challenges ultimately aligned their paths to wellness.

“When I was working at Credit Suisse,” Sara shares, “I was super depressed, and I started cooking just as a hobby. From there, I started noticing the shift in how the food I was eating impacted my moods and the way that I felt the next day. I got really excited and thought I was onto something,” she laughed. “I started hosting these seasonal tasting events, where I invited my friends to experience multi-course meals with wine pairings, and we talked about how the food made our bodies feel.”

At the time, Sara was working in private wealth management and catering after-hours until 3 AM on some work nights. “It was not sustainable,” says the Georgetown graduate. “Once I saw how the business could scale and it became financially sustainable for me to leave, I dipped.”

Sara Elise of Blind Seed. (photo: Texas Isaiah)

Tara, who also has a business background, began to change course as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. Her experience at Wharton, she says, was “super intense.” Her study abroad in Cuba propelled the shift. “At the time, I watched the aftermath of 9/11 and the serious injustice in the United States,” contrasting her time in Cuba. “I was studying how media exists outside of a capitalist framework. When I got back, there were AKs, police, all kinds of military presence in the streets. I was feeling like I was in even more of a police state. That, combined with a toxic academic environment and endless striving, heightened my general anxiety level. I didn’t really know where to turn. I didn’t know what to do.” From there, she notes, “finding meditation helped, and I followed my heart. I was deciding every day that I can choose to be better.” 

Caring for one’s well-being — even when life has no clear-cut path or strictly articulated destination — is Blind Seed’s philosophy, which is inspired by the Zen proverb: “the seed never sees the tree.”

“We have no idea how things in our future will unfold or our potential for growth and beauty. So we need to invest in ourselves now, and nurture our growth so we can unfold into…” Sara begins; before Tara concludes,  “…the most authentic and glorious versions of ourselves that we were meant to be.” Then Tara adds, “A seed doesn’t worry about what it’s going to become or exist in this really straight framework.” “Humans do that,” Sara interjects.

“Because otherwise that just restricts its expansion. Each of us kind of tried that,” Tara says. “Like ‘yeah I can do this, this is my path,’ but then feeling some type of way. I’m bigger than this path. Allowing that, allowing each of our seeds to exist, crack open, bloom, blossom and grow. And reap fruit. We let ourselves feed other people and create new seeds.” 

In sowing their own seeds and allowing themselves to escape a trail worn by expectations of what successful Black women are supposed to be, Sara and Tara’s paths crossed earlier than they initially realized. Blind Seed has been the fruit.

Sara Elise and Tara Aura of Blind Seed, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. (photo: Texas Isaiah)

“We had been kind of floating in and out of the same circles,” says Tara. “I actually found a photo with Sara in it years ago before we ever really connected. One day, I was really interested in expanding my yoga teaching to include more meditation. I realized there was a gap for women of color. Someone passed my email along to Sara, and she hit me up and said she wanted to do food and collaborate.” The two agreed to have brunch and plan their first retreat, which they held in early June 2017. 

I asked if there was a single “Aha!” moment during their brunch.

“I had been having these visions of going Upstate [New York], gathering people to enjoy delicious food, and experience a full immersion away from their current lives,” Sara says. “Tara told me she had access to space Upstate and shared her vision that was so similar to mine. And I think we both had an ‘aha’ moment where we’re just like, we need to be together, all the time…” — they both laugh — “…not just to plan this thing that we both had dreams about, but to collaborate on a lot more stuff, because we’re really aligned in everything that we’re trying to put out into the world.”

What they’re putting out, Sara tells me, is the message that “everyone can have access to tools that will help them learn how to take care of themselves. Everyone can have access to pleasure and feeling good. And everyone can have access to community care. If you’re feeling like you’re lacking in any of these, we can actually create those spaces to take care of each other and learn to take care of ourselves.”

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