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Aspiring Co. is here to remind you to chase your dreams relentlessly and to inspire you when you feel like giving up. We are telling the stories of women who are fighting everyday to pursue a life of meaning.



Joyell is another blessing from the StartingBloc community. She shares her life work as Founder and CEO of harp + sword as well as what made her get started. In June I had the opportunity to be apart of StartingBloc's Raleigh-Durham cohort, an as a result, was introduced to a huge community of likeminded people who are committed to working towards an equitable, collaborative, thriving world. (If this sounds like your kinda people, I am happy to share more details -- hit me on twitter @alovely_dae and I would be happy to share my experience. That said, the fellowship is what connected me to Joyell and a ton of other remarkable women who you will be hearing from over the next couple weeks and I am so pumped! Get ready, these ladies are killing it!

Name: Joyell Arvella
Age: 30
Job Title/Company: Founder & CEO of harp + sword
Education Background: Juris Doctor with a focus on Civil and Human Rights Law from New England Law | Boston; Bachelor of Arts in Black Studies from Washington College

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1.     Tell us a little about who you are.

Some days I am Erykah Badu, other days I am Rihanna. I came out of the womb creating the beat to my own drum. I have an honorary degree in sarcasm, with a mix of sweet and spicy sass. I love turning awkward situations into a comedic moment because life is serious enough. I am a true free spirit and digital nomad – the world is my home. I am not afraid to pick up and move from one place to the next…solo. Nowadays, the majority of my time is spent running harp + sword while balancing daily self-love practices. I am an advocate, connector, and healer who loves wearing a good head wrap while carrying a fresh cup of coffee.

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2.     What sparked your interest in starting harp + sword?

Honestly, harp + sword is a manifestation of the love and support Black women have given me. From my great aunt to my first African American lit professor in college to my close friends – Black women have always seen my leadership potential and pushed me to be more than average. They are the ones who planted the seed in my mind that I could own my business someday.

Plus, the Universe had been telling me to start my company for at least five years. I let my imposter syndrome keep me stuck, jumping from one job to the next, thinking that I needed more experience before I took the leap into entrepreneurship. For two years, I remained in toxic work environments because I was afraid to step out on faith. The Universe saw that and made it so that I no choice but to focus on me and my goal of being a CEO.

I started harp + sword because I was tired of companies and organizations using marginalized communities (especially women of color) for their monetary gain and self-fulfillment. Instead of waiting for these institutions to function equitably, I decided to start a consulting firm that provides coaching and training on racial and gender equity. It has not been an easy journey but I would rather be my own boss than give my intellectual property to an organization that does not value me as a whole person.


3.     Who are you most influenced by?

I am influenced by people who live their lives unapologetically, with a little flare and glitter. I absolutely love Zora Neale Hurston. In fact, harp + sword is named after a quote by Hurston, “I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.”

I am also influenced by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, my Great-Aunt Shirley, and Aunt Nikki. They all inspire me to keep using my voice for justice, remain humble, and never forget where I come from.

4.     What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?

Ugh. My first job was at Domino’s Pizza.  I was 14 years old and hated working there. I only stayed for 2 months to save up money to buy clothes for school. I still love pizza, but I do not ever want to work in another fast food restaurant. I may open my own restaurant in the future…time will tell.


5.     Can you share one of your proudest achievements with us?

Oh wow. That is hard. I know the predictable answers are graduating from law school, starting my first business, being a badass, but truthfully, my proudest achievement has been becoming an aunt. I have so many nieces and nephews (by blood and choice). I feel so honored that I am trusted to take care of little people. Not only that but I love hearing how some of my nieces exhibit my personality and mannerisms. It warms my heart.

6.     What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?

When I was younger, I had dreams of dancing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, using dance to share experiences of the African diaspora. I used to practice for hours. Ha!

Once I went to college, I fell in love with literature, thanks to my professors Dr. Alisha Knight and Dr. Pamela Pears. I thought I would become a radical professor, educating younger generations on the power of words to transform society. When I told my Great Aunt and mentor at the time, they both looked at me like I was a confused little pup. They both let me know that I had time to become a professor, but I should think about law school since I always got into trouble for defending people. They were right. The only times I got into fights was for sticking up for what I thought was right. I have never been the person to just sit blindly when injustice is happening around me. Reflecting back on my professional career, I have not changed much and I love that.

I have changed how and who I engage but the commitment to justice is still strong.

Instead of asking why is this happening to me, I now ask why is this happening FOR me?
— Joyell Arvella

7.     What do you think is the most important life skill you learned through your work?

The one that comes to mind is trust my intuition. I do not always know what is going to happen or where harp + sword’s next clients are coming from but I know my gut. My gut has never steered me wrong. I used to let people put me in the background or define ME for myself instead of standing firm and listening to my intuition tell me the truth about a person or situation.

Having been taken advantage of and manipulated to fit a stereotypical role as a Strong Black Woman, I have learned to maintain a healthy inner circle of folx. I rely on my intuition to tell me who should be part of my inner circle and my intuition has not failed me yet. My inner circle is small but mighty. They care more about me as a person and less about what I can do for them. Having this type of tribe is rare. They are my home.

8.     Where do you hope to be in five years?

I’d love to have traveled throughout the Caribbean, be a homeowner and working on opening my second business.


9.     What is a typical day like for you?

Each day is different from the next but I try to maintain a morning routine. I am an early riser but I do not like being rushed. Most days, I wake up by 6:00 AM, do some morning stretches and breathing exercises to wake my body up. Then I sit in meditation for 15-20 minutes. I then make a cup of strong black coffee and journal my intention for the day.

If I do not have appointments with clients, I work on creating a to do list for the day with the top five things I need to get done that day. Then I plug away until about 1:00 PM when I break for lunch, nap, or mental break. I also try to take dance breaks every hour or two so I am not sitting too long. After my break, I will continue working on what I need to before I start to unwind around 3:00 PM. Knowing when I shift from working harp + sword is important because it is not my only responsibility. I am a Board member for Community Law in Action, I manage two interns, I am a mentor, and volunteer quite bit. I also exercise every day, have a great network of friends and family so I have to factor them in at some point in the day. Phew!

It has not been an easy journey but I would rather be my own boss than give my intellectual property to an organization that does not value me as a whole person.
— Joyella Arvella

10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your goals?

I am not sure I have experienced obstacles because I have shifted my perspective. Instead of asking why is this happening to me, I now ask why is this happening FOR me? Every time something seems to be going wrong, it ends up working out in the end. I just have to trust the phase that I am in.

11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?

To be a leaf. Instead of trying to control all aspects of my life – where I am going, what I am doing, who I am with, what is happening around me– be a leaf and allow life to carry me to and fro. I loved this so much that I got a tattoo of a leaf! This advice changed my life.


12.  When do you get your best ideas?

Not to sound like Oprah or Iyanla Vansant but my best ideas come when I am sitting in stillness and in alignment with my truth. When I am still, I am grounded and unshakeable. I cannot be easily influenced by what someone else is doing. 

13.  Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?

What is failure? I have experienced many life lessons but never failure. As someone told me, failure is a mindset. We make mistakes, we learn, we grow and that’s it. I feel like this person was channeling Rafiki from The Lion King when they shared that with me. =)

14.  How do you unwind?

I channel my inner goddess by combining essential oils, a fresh herb bundle, bath bomb, and salts in a hot, luxurious bubble bath. Then I add a glass of wine, candle from Knits, Soy, and Metal, Ibeyi playing in my headphones and a good book. I am in heaven for 45 minutes to an hour. Nothing can disturb me.


15.  What would you tell someone else who is interested in entering your field?

My advice would be to set personal boundaries, seek out a strong tribe of folx, and be comfortable with not knowing your next step.

16.  What do you hope people take away from your story?

I hope people understand that they do not have to fit a mold to be a CEO, or their own boss. I hope people recognize that everything they need is already with them, they just have to tap in.

17.  Anything we missed that you would like to share?

harp + sword is now offering personal coaching for anyone wanting a custom experience to dive deeper into racial and gender equity, intersectionality, restorative justice, and/or overcoming imposter syndrome. Invest in yourself by signing up for a coaching session today!

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