Building Our Own Table: Lisa Hurley

Meet the founder of The Great Exhale™

Hello friends,

This is a very special interview today. First, because it’s my sister, and second, because it’s the one-year anniversary of the community she launched, The Great Exhale™. Congratulations, Sis! And, of course, it’s Juneteenth, which is a very special date in the TGE calendar.

As many of you know, Lisa has serious writing chops, so there’s really no need for me to say more. Please read on to learn more about Lisa, The Great Exhale™, and why this kind of space is so needed at this time…

Lisa, tell me briefly about your background prior to founding The Great Exhale™

I am a writer, creative, and marketer. For most of my career in the U.S. I have been a marketing copywriter. Prior to that, in Barbados, I was a Marketing Officer for one of the leading all inclusive hotels in the Caribbean. I am also a Reiki Master, and have been a reiki practitioner for several years.

In 2020 I started my journey as an activist, raising awareness and (I hope) inspiring a measure of change around issues including racism, colorism, texturism, pay equity, and introversion. Currently my work centers Black women and focuses on self-care, community care, and Black joy.

My voice and work have been amplified in Forbes, Essence, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Sweet July, and Adweek.

Give me the elevator pitch for The Great Exhale™

The Great Exhale is an award-winning private membership community where Black women can relax, lay their burdens down, and exhale. I like to describe it as a self-care sorority for Black women. It is a comforting virtual sanctuary that prioritizes soft living, rest, breathwork, and mindfulness. Our mission is to provide Black women with the sisterhood, support, and psychological safety they need in a world that is often harsh and unwelcoming. The Great Exhale is our soft, safe space.

And in more detail?

Black women deserve to rest. We deserve a gentle life. I founded The Great Exhale in order to serve and support Black women like myself who are in search of a respite from harmful systems, spaces, and organizational cultures.

The Great Exhale (TGE) is more than a community, it is a movement that centers Black women, supporting them in prioritizing self-care. We encourage Black women to put their proverbial mask on first, remove their superwoman cape, take a breath, and rest. It’s time for us to stop being the “strong Black woman.” It is time for us to relax. This is why the community focuses on self-care, soft living, and seeking joy.

By providing a safe private space for Black women to be in community with each other away from harmful gazes, The Great Exhale promotes much-needed sisterhood and psychological safety. It is ideal for Black women who are ready to say no to hustle culture and yes to a life of ease.

What inequity were you trying to address, and why is this important?

Black women are exhausted.

A recent study by Black Women Thriving reported that more than 88% of Black women have experienced burnout. That same study revealed that fewer than 50% of Black women feel happy at their job, while 66% feel emotionally unsafe at work. So about two-thirds of us are fighting for our lives in these corporate streets. From microaggressions to misogynoir, from tone policing to code switching, every day can feel like we’re engaged in an unwinnable battle.

Because the causes of burnout for Black women in corporate are multi-layered, the effects tend to run deep. We deal with the punishing workloads and high stress levels commonly associated with burnout—but with the added burden of coping with anti-blackness and racial weathering. Unsurprisingly, this causes many Black women to struggle with their mental health.

Black women professionals suffering from burnout can experience symptoms including anxiety, migraines, chronic fatigue, sleep disruption, depression, and even suicidal ideation. In fact, a study by Boston University reported that among all women, Black women aged 18-65 have the highest suicide risk.

There is also a racial sleep disparity gap. Black people, and especially Black women, are also more likely than white people to experience “short sleep,” which is sleeping for 7 hours or less per night.

So the data supports what many of us know experientially: Black women are burned out, stressed out, and fatigued. However, we don’t need or deserve to be.

While none of us can solve the systemic issues on our own, we can each do our part to make things better. The Great Exhale is me doing my part to help as many Black women as possible by providing a virtual sanctuary where they feel safe, where they don’t have to code switch, where they are seen and validated, where they are encouraged to relax. There is nothing quite as healing as being surrounded by a supportive community.

I deliberately designed the community to be serene and restorative. It is filled with inspirational and educational content around self-care, breathwork, meditation, affirmations, and more. Every week I post messages affirming our intrinsic worthiness, celebrating our culture, and most importantly, reminding us to rest.

How’s it going? What has the response been?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The Great Exhale was created to be a soft, nurturing space for Black women, and that is how it is being received. Many TGE members are currently on sabbatical from work and have chosen to include TGE as a part of their wellness support system.

Our members also know that inside TGE they are not the “only.” What a relief. They are surrounded by other Black women with similar experiences, so there is a certain cultural commonality and non-competitive energy that promotes ease. They don’t have to put on a mask, or code switch, or try to be anyone other than themselves. Most importantly, they can show up in their fullness and completely relax.

Here’s what some of our members have said:

"The Great Exhale is a vibe, a balm, and an amazing collective. I am in awe of the intelligence, compassion and creativity of this group of Black Women. A few sentences is not enough to explain how groundbreaking this movement is. A safe and secure place for women who look like me is so necessary. The healing, laughter, and collective compassion is black joy in a bottle. It is rare, and the fact that I get to witness this after all that came before is divine grace."—Val P.

“I joined this community to be around women like myself and to find the support I need, especially during this difficult time I am going through currently with my job and my career. I mentally couldn't take the stress any more and I had to take a leave of absence to step back and focus on me. So here's to another step towards focusing on me and my journey!”—Adrienne J.

“TGE IS A ONE-STOP SHOP that truly encourages you to do as the name suggests EXHALE!! We laugh, cry, and say it out loud be black and proud!!! TGE advises, empowers, and leads you to discover and expose the various levels and layers of SELF-CARE!...I have redefined self-care and been held accountable and given virtual hugs from professional women, entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, and women contemplating retiring and embarking on new ventures!! I love TGE WOMEN.”—Michele M.

“The vibes are vibing, the softness is softing, and Black women are thriving! Yes, yes, yes!”—Anta G.

What’s next for The Great Exhale™?

We are currently celebrating our 1-year anniversary! The community was launched on Juneteenth last year and it’s been quite a ride. We’re being true-to-brand by celebrating quietly.

As TGE grows, we’re in the process of building partnerships with mental health professionals to ensure that the community has access to people who are fully trained and deeply experienced in culturally competent care. This will be a valuable resource for our community members, some of whom are navigating difficult circumstances both personally and professionally. I’m excited to introduce this offering to the community in the near future to provide our members with even more support.

During Black History Month and Women’s History Month we ran our #SupportABlackWoman campaign, and we decided to keep it going for Mental Health Awareness Month and beyond. People can gift TGE memberships to the Black women in their families, friend groups, and networks. It’s a thoughtful and helpful gift, especially for Black women in corporate and academia. In the past year alone we have seen just how traumatizing and harmful some of those professional spaces can be.

This is also a great opportunity for organizations to actively support their Black women employees, and demonstrate their commitment to promoting their wellbeing. Companies can sponsor individual memberships (for example if they only have one Black woman – or very few – on staff). Group packages are also available for five women or more. To inquire about those, email us at [email protected].

TGE is a relatively young company, but we’re already making an impact, and as the founder it’s fulfilling to see how well it is being received.

In relation to racism, what is your vision for the future?

I would love to see a world where racism is completely eradicated, and where Black women no longer have to experience misogynoir. I would love for all Black people, and especially Black women, to be happy, healthy, and rested; where we are all physically and psychologically safe.

While I realize that this might not happen in my lifetime, one must still plant seeds to help grow a future that is better for us all. So…the work continues.

The work continues, indeed, Sis. Folx, I hope you were inspired to join (if you’re a Black woman) or gift a membership (if you’re not). Please connect with Lisa and The Great Exhale on their website, LinkedIn page and Instagram account.

Thanks for reading,

Sharon

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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2024. All Rights Reserved.

I am an anti-racism educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality, the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. This newsletter is published on beehiiv (affiliate link).

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