Interview by Carolina Meurkens, Photography by Vanessa dos Santos
Mixed Mag is excited to feature Imani Joye Samuels, the founder of Huru, a sacred space for wellness and rest. As a spiritual thought leader, Imani dreams of a world that celebrates stillness as a means to discover peace. Huru infuses clinical, cultural and spiritual touches to facilitate deep introspection and optimal shut eye in an all-inclusive weekend. Her efforts have helped individuals and organizations across North America, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, UAE, and the UK. Imani is a graduate of the Spirituality Mind Body program at Teachers College, Columbia University and holds an MA in Public Communication from American University as well as a BA in Journalism from Howard University. She’s married with two young feminists, both who have a great sense of curiosity, purpose and imagination.
In this interview, Carolina Meurkens interviews Imani about the story behind Huru Space and rest as an ancestral practice, a birthright, and an act of revolution.
Mixed Mag is a publication dedicated to promoting the work of creators of color, with a special focus on sharing intersectional stories. What is your racial/ ethnic/ cultural background? What does your cultural heritage mean to you?
I am Black, born and bred in Charlotte, North Carolina. I recently discovered, through African Ancestry, that my genealogical makeup from my mother’s DNA is from four countries on the mother continent: Guinea Bissau (nomadic country, specifically the Fula people), Sierra Leone (Salome/Mende people), and Liberia (Kroo/Pela people). Though I can’t recall the fourth, this composition is known for rice farming, fishing and freedom of religion.
My cultural heritage defines the expansiveness of my future and helps distill the richness for generations to come. The filter in which I view the world is highly informed by my heritage…
- finding comfort in the simple
- frolicking land and water for meaning
- consistently seeking awesome wonder
Its enigmatic ways keep me curious about life and grateful for the ancestors that have intentionally paved the way for me to flourish!
Tell us about the story behind Huru Space! How did it come about? What was the inspiration behind it?
A friend and I were just discussing yesterday what it means to access imagination. In many instances, it’s suffering, sometimes it’s through space and stillness, and it is almost always when you have someone holding you through the journey.
For me, all of these were true…
Despite my contentment with life, I found myself retreating each morning to meditate on the beauty of waking up. I carved out this time because my spirit was broken and my mind was fried. In an effort to launch one of the most revolutionary social change loyalty platforms in the world, I pushed myself to work all day, averaging an unsustainable amount of hours per week, all while trying to cultivate two little girls with a partner whose demands are legitimately among the most critical in the nation.
Each day, my soul nearly crippled. I forced myself to push through despite acknowledging that my body was craving rest. It became so debilitating that the concept of freedom felt far from reality. I read articles, literature and devotions about how to tackle stress, reclaim joy, and not give a *expletive.* It didn’t work.
Then one day, I went cold turkey and stopped working at 3 a.m. I still woke up, with an urge to get up and be productive, but instead of working, I just laid there and breathed. Sometimes slowly, sometimes anxiously.
It was at that point that I knew the antidote for the compound burnout accrued from my 14-year run at a career, was nothing more than rest. I vividly heard spirit tell me that I have to go minister rest to individuals who are overwhelmed and burned out. My husband supported me as I searched high and low for a program that would help teach me the competencies and I designed.
Then I shared Huru with the world, a sacred restorative experience designed to foster uninterrupted rest, especially for women of color. The weekend experience infuses clinical, cultural and spiritual undertones through a weekend of refined stillness.
How has your cultural heritage influenced your work as an entrepreneur and a wellness practitioner?
O my goodness, I love this question! I think of my cultural heritage as experiential. So here’s how I break it down…
I am Imani Joye Sanders Samuels, born and bred in Charlotte, North Carolina to two loving parents from the Carolinas. My first name, Imani, means faith in Swahili. Swahili is spoken in East African countries like Kenya.
My maternal grandmother from Smithfield, NC and my Dad (a psychologist), from Chester, SC were among the greatest of hosts. Their hospitality preceded their reputation. Though that wasn’t their chosen profession, they taught me the nuances of entertaining including polishing silver, setting the table properly (with all of the extra cutlery), making the bed with the same folds used in the hospital, and crafting invitations and thank you notes personalized for each guest. My southern roots planted a seed for allowing humanity the space to feel held, one of the cornerstones of Huru’s philosophy.
I attended Howard University in undergrad, a Historically Black College & University, the Mecca for black scholars and the symphony for the African diaspora. In one room, you could experience banana pudding, chicken roti, and jollof rice. During that time, I studied political science and dance in Stellenbosch, South Africa where I learned about global democratization and led students in the Kayamandi Township to experience art and imagination. That season established a love for humanity…to care for their souls and expression, not just their academic career.
I am married to my dear husband whose roots are Jamaican and Cuban. We have two beautiful, brilliant black girls, Paz Nala (Peace Queen) and Noire Luca (Black Light). They represent the spiritual journey that I was on when they were conceived. Spiritual undertones are infused into the Huru experience, sometimes including prayer, contemplation and reflection.
What are some challenges you’ve faced when running your own business?
Doing. Doing was my first major challenge. I’m a dreamer, a visionary and can concept all day. But the thought of executing the vision was so intimidating, largely because I defined success externally and was nervous about what others might say or think. To help temper that, I focused on impact and told myself that if only I can shepherd one person through a weekend of stillness so that they find clarity and rediscover their dreams, my work will not be in vain. And one by one, guests began to share how transformational their experience was.
Rest is so essential, but it’s often seen as a privilege extended only to those you can “afford” to do it. How do you navigate the challenges of accessibility and reframing the concept of rest as a human right rather than a luxury?
Rest is absolutely a birthright! I share similar sentiments with Rachel Cargle and Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry. Rest champions like this keep me grounded and thus, remind me to position Huru as a space for all. Part of how we are doing this is advocating for organizations to cover the costs of the experience. Taking this financial barrier out of the pockets of the guests frees them from feeling the burden when the experience is intended to feel burdenless. We’re also starting to campaign with prospective guests to negotiate for rest with their employers as part of their compensation package, similar to a sabbatical of sorts. Even if the individual doesn’t come to Huru, our goal is to encourage that every individual is taking them time for themselves.
How does Huru Space acknowledge the relationship between rest and freedom?
In a hyper-capitalist, commerce-dependent, high-performing society, it is challenging to navigate through life with adequate rest. Not the type of sleep deprivation one might acquire upon bringing a newborn into the world. Rather true, authentic rest. The kind of rest that allows clarity, discovery and affirmation.
Americans have diminished our value as running an endless, self-defeating, pointless pursuit, affectionately referred to as the “rat race.” We’ve also rekindled a motivation of status, ego and money that inform how we allocate every second of every day, chronically over-connected, perpetuating the imbalance of work and life. This epidemic is agnostic of age, race, sex and income.
There have been phenomenal gains across a variety of industries as a result of our incentivized workaholic culture, but we have lost the ability to understand our drivers, identify our passions and groom our dreams. We’ve lost our freedom.
In this spirit, Huru‘s mission is to help you discover (or rediscover) inner-peace through rest, and adopt the practice in your life.
When each of us take full reign over our emotional wellbeing, we collectively become postured to institute peace in our local communities, state and federal governments, and, ultimately, global industries. This is the modernization of peace-building, and rest is the prerequisite — one individual at a time. We are interdependent on each other to extend grace and embrace peace.
When introduced appropriately, the state of inaction has the power to free us from some of the most grave societal ills, and foster an incomparable peace of mind and spirit. It is our belief that once we transition into a mindset of rest, so much can be revealed. Its illuminating attributes are precisely the intention for each of our guests.
As an entrepreneur, how do you navigate the dichotomies of “hustle” culture while still honoring the importance of rest?
Since our founding, we’ve always remained mild in contributing to the hustle culture. For example, we were not present on social media when we launched to demonstrate how we honor the philosophy of uninterrupted rest.
This year, we are being intentional in creating breathing room… in thought, venture and action. We’ve simplified the experience and are becoming more operationally efficient which requires a bit of investment but is totally worth it!
How has parenthood impacted your relationship with rest and productivity? Do you bring any lessons into your work?
Parenthood requires patience, but it also requires seeing the beauty in each child. We love to elevate and reveal the beauty of each guest to them. As such, each guest completes a character strength assessment that offers all of the virtues where they are strong. This is a major component of positive psychology.
We also do a practice called “Sawabona” which is a northern natal South African saying for “I see you” or “we see you.” Even when a guest shares a story of pain, we reflect back the good of their heart. That lesson I learned firsthand from my girls!
What do you hope for the future of Huru Space? For your family? For your community?
Sustainable peace and unapologetic joy. For all generations around the world.