We had the good fortune of connecting with Samantha Jo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Samantha, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
So I currently run a non-profit called “The Aura House” and an apothecary called “Samantha Jo’s Balm Yard.”
I am an advocate for mental health. I relate to mental health firsthand. I’ve learned skills through an intensive therapy program to help me navigate my early 20s journey. I often noticed I was the only black woman in group therapy sessions. Though very helpful, the therapists & group members at this program didn’t understand my daily anxiety about being a black woman in today’s society. If it weren’t for my mother’s insurance, being in an intensive program like that would have been impossible for me. Once I completed the program, I was determined to share the skills I learned with my peers who did not have insurance or funds to support their therapy.
The goal of Aura House is to create a workshop program that creates a space where all women can come together and support one another on their paths of self-empowerment. We invest in building a strong community and, at the same time, staying committed to reclaiming our African culture by prioritizing black women. We offer a myriad of workshops to create a foundation for understanding mental health & spiritual practices like; mindfulness, storytelling, political education, herbalism, self-care, nutrition, Astrology, interpersonal skill-building, and so much more.
What should our readers know about your business?
During the pandemic, I found myself doing a lot of shadow work. Through the process, I understood my purpose and path more clearly. During a challenging moment in time, Balm Yard was born. Balm Yard is a botanica shop for spiritual + physical healing & cleansing. Many recipes in the collection have been passed down by family members that are root doctors and medicine women in the south. Home is in St. Augustine, FL, and the Carolinas coast. I take a lot of inspiration from my Geechee/Gullah roots and strive to provide a space to connect spirituality + holistic wellness.
With my father’s help, a spiritual practitioner, I started to learn my family’s spiritual practices. Over time, I began to meet other women of color on the same path as me that wanted to begin their journey but didn’t know how to start.
The Aura House had been focused on mental health skills for many years. It was not until my recent discovery of my lineage that I started incorporating spiritual practices into the healing program.
History has shown, along with research, that Black people’s mental health relies heavily on religious/spiritual practices. In recent years, we’ve seen more young Black + Brown people begin to practice spiritual-based methods of all backgrounds. Black people underuse counseling services because of cultural mistrust, stigma, and treatment interventions. However, we at The Aura House have noticed that limited attention has been given to the indigenous healing methods used by African Americans and the traditional 1-on-1 therapy we see used today.
Over time, our focus shifted to bringing in elders to lead our workshops more often. There is a frequency exchange between our elders and ourselves, and we give space for those relationships to re-connect. Historically, this is what therapy looked like – COMMUNITY and healing with those with the most wisdom. Each one, teach one.
I learned the hard way that it’s best to know myself and what I stand for so that my goals are always in alignment with my mission. Many personal funds have gone into this project over the years, and I’ve had to make many compromises on many days.
As a medicine woman, I believe in the law of attraction. I’ve learned that the rest will follow as long as I put in the work and focus on the community and creating opportunities. Since switching to that mindset – I’ve come in contact with amazing people that want to help our organization in every way they can. I’m forever grateful for the battles I won, whether mental health or financial struggles because there’s so much power in learning on our journey. The Aura House can not and will not fail as long as I have community.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Born and raised Chicagoan, and though I have lived here all my life – the city changes often! I’m still discovering my favorite go-to spots around the city.
This summer, I’ve been hanging out at Retreat at Currency Café in Washington Park on the South Side of Chicago. Owned by Theaster Gates, it’s a neighborhood staple that has been around for many years. Here you will find community friends and BIPOC artists + entrepreneurs co-working with each other. There is always something shaking at the cafe, whether photo-booth pop-ups by traveling artists or poetry slam night. There is a rotating restaurant residency for any inspired foodies + chefs. On Thursdays and Fridays, they host happy hour evenings switching the coffee café to a lounge bar with live music.
Another great spot to hang out is the Soho House Friends Studio loft in the Chicago West Loop. I serve as a board member for the space, so there is always something fun happening there – and they also serve fantastic food + beverages!
As far as food. Virtue is one of my top favorite restaurants in the Hyde Park area, again located on the South Side of Chicago. Black-owned by Chef Erick Williams. If you’re in the mood for Southern comfort food that feels like you are in New Orleans – check this place out! They usually rotate the menu fixed to each season. My favorite dishes are the blackened catfish and the gumbo!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to SHOUTOUT my mentors at the MacArthur Foundation in the city of Chicago. The team of black women that are a part of the foundation has done a great job giving young entrepreneurs like myself a chance at getting our projects off the ground. The Foundation has progressed over the years, and it’s exciting to see them extend its resources to black + brown business professionals, humanitarians, artists, filmmakers, and non-profits all over the world.
If it weren’t for their team, I would not be in the position I’m in today. They inspire me with the work they continuously do for the community and the affirmations they pour into The Aura House. To them, I say, “THANK YOU, THANK YOU!”
Instagram: @isamanthajo @theaurahouse
Other: www.samantha-jo.com for the Balm Yard Apothecary
Kalyn Jacobs & Alexus Hazel