By Sophie Oswald
Photos by Travis Young
Kharissa Forte breaks through barriers. Today, she is a Black woman business owner at the wheel of Grace & Grind. It all started in 2018 when she and her husband, Wesley, were on the brink of filing for divorce, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Before Grace & Grind, Kharissa worked in digital marketing, social media, and website design.
She was even an on-air radio personality and associate producer. She enjoyed her work in these positions, but she did not feel fulfilled. “Those industries can be so ego-centric, and I didn’t feel like I was actually making a difference in the world. Not to mention, I was smoking around the clock, and chugging energy drinks like my paycheck depended on it,” she explained.
She was talented in these jobs and continued to work them for a while, but eventually, it all just clicked. “One day, I just had a breakdown and literally in that moment decided I want to work in health and wellness somehow. In hindsight, I think the need for me to prioritize my own health was the guiding light,” she said. “That year, it was 2019, I quit the agency I was at and started working at a local health store. I also enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach. The next year, Grace & Grind was born,” she said.
Kharissa has always been a fan of health and wellness, but more on a subconscious level. She was curious about the impact various factors can have on the body, such as diet, exercise, relationships, and the environment.
“I’m a big believer in following my intuition and being okay with not having all the answers right away,” she explained. “When I enrolled at IIN, I had no idea how that was going to mesh with my background in media and digital marketing. All I knew was that I intuitively felt inclined to get some kind of training in the health and wellness industry if that’s where I felt called to shift into. There were a couple of people who I looked up to who got their health coaching certifications from IIN. Between that and their incredible team of instructors, I knew it was a good fit for me.”
Kharissa is more than just a business owner; she’s also a writer.
Her journey as an author began in 2018 when Kharissa and Wesley’s marriage hit a point where they were contemplating divorce. The couple still had a strong friendship, but their marriage was no longer functioning as strongly as it once did. They were dealing with issues in unhealthy ways rather than taking them on as a team. They reached a point where they could either give their relationship another go or part ways.
“After we both came clean, we decided to cut off our affairs and give our marriage one seriously good shot,” Kharissa said. “The biggest lesson we learned was that neither one of us had a healthy relationship with self-care. I’m very individualistic and he’s very much about being a unit and togetherness. We had to learn the beauty, balance, and boundaries of the ‘I’ and the ‘we.’”
“Pardon My Apathy is about that season: the cheating, the work we put in, the coming out on the other side,” Kharissa explained of her debut poetry book, published in Oct. 2018. “It’s a book of poetry and it’s divided into three parts. Writing it was so therapeutic for me and I honestly believe that publishing it released something in me that freed up my mind and heart to be able to start Grace & Grind.”
Kharissa has continued to use the written word to express her thoughts as the Editor in Chief of Grace & Grind. At the time of this interview, Kharissa had just accepted a position as a columnist for Startland. Right on!
Developing a better relationship with self-care helped Kharissa and Wesley work through things.
Many people use self-care as a reward for hard work, but self-care is vital to maintaining healthy relationships, not only with others but with yourself. According to this survey, 72% of people use self-care as a reward after a long week, and 59% only practice it when they feel stressed out. These practices should be carried out every day.
After a handful of counseling sessions, the couple found a pattern in their habits: They both lacked a positive relationship with self-care.
For many, self-care isn’t a prime concern. Some feel guilty when slowing down to prioritize their own wellbeing, but not taking time for yourself usually ends in burnout. A study from Birchbox discovered that one in three Americans feel guilty when they slow down and take time for themselves. The same study found that 67% of Americans desire to take more time to care for themselves, but many let this overwhelming guilt hold them back from doing so.
“This may sound cheesy, but I honestly think self-care is the most important thing in life because it flows into everything else. At Grace & Grind, we have what we call the 7 Pillars of Self-Care that really illustrates how self-care touches every area of our lives,” Kharissa explained.
Adding self-care to their lives changed everything. Kharissa made a big career shift while her husband Wesley lost 100 pounds through intermittent fasting. Through loads of inner work and personal growth, the two created a relationship that was stronger than it ever was before.
Grace & Grind is born.
After witnessing the impact heightened self-care had in their life, Kharissa and Wesley launched Grace & Grind to share their experience with others.They knew the lessons they learned could help others improve their relationships and personal lives. A podcast seemed like the perfect way to get this message to others.
“In April , we became a full-blown business, and that’s when I saw the puzzle pieces come together,” Kharissa said. “When we launched Grace & Grind, the pandemic was in full swing. It was during a time in which people needed media, digital marketing, and health coaching all at once—talk about divine timing!”
Grace & Grind became much more than a just business.
“Grace & Grind is definitely a mentality,” she explained. In fact, the phrase “grace and grind” is something Wes and I would say to each other when we were in our season. We vowed to give each other grace and give ourselves grace as we both put in the work towards becoming healthy, whole individuals.”
One of the best things about Grace & Grind is that Kharissa is running the show, making this a Black-owned and woman-owned business.
In 2018, four out of every ten businesses in the US had female owners. According to the 2020 Annual Business Survey, in 2019, approximately 18.7% of United States employer businesses were minority-owned. About 20.9% were owned by women. 35% of Black business owners are women.
Until fairly recently, the percentage of women-owned businesses was much lower than men-owned. Now, it seems that white men might make up the smallest amount of business owners in the United States. There has been a growth of women and LatinX-owned businesses.
When asked how it feels to be a black-owned and woman-owned business, Kharissa said she feels empowered. “I enjoy showing that Black women aren’t a monolith. The ‘strong Black woman’ story is played and tired. Yes, we’re strong, but we’re also soft and feminine and playful and healthy and secure and rational and divine. We’re so much more than just strong—which is actually a narrative used in the medical world to mistreat us when it comes to pain medicine and other hospital treatments. It’s time we change that.”
Wellness is an essential part of Grace & Grind, but more importantly Black wellness.
“Not only did Grace & Grind start during the onset of the pandemic, it started during a time of civil unrest. Going through that experience as Black business owners of a self-care brand showed us that what self-care looks like for our community is a little different. We can’t talk about self-care for our people without also addressing social justice, balancing staying informed with knowing when to decompress, and other things that don’t have to be top of mind for other people groups,” Kharissa explained.
The health of Black Americans tends to suffer because of inequality and discrimination. This is true for both physical and mental health. According to Everyday Health, Black individuals are more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression, but are less likely to seek treatment. A lot of this comes from a lack of trust in the systems that have done them wrong so many times.
“On another note, we also realized that soul food was consistently vilified in the wellness space and labeled as a culprit of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other ailments,” Kharissa added. “The reality is that all cultures have healthy and unhealthy ways of cooking. Furthermore, our foods aren’t just about the food. It’s about our ancestry. It’s about enslaved Africans daring to bring a piece of who they are with them to this new world because they knew there would be generations of descendants who would never get to see home. Black wellness holds space for these cultures and traditions.”
What’s next for Grace & Grind?
“My big plan for 2022 is to get the word out about the 7 Pillars of Self-Care through speaking engagements, workshops, and an on demand audio course that will be released in the first quarter of the year. I’m working on a book about it, too!” Kharissa said.
“We’re continuing to create more YouTube content. We have a few more ideas cooking that we’re excited to get started,” she added. The Grace & Grind online store is growing too as they add more luxury self-care experiences including vitamins, herbs, candles, journals, and more.
“Five years from now, Grace & Grind will be a major online media and retail company. We’ll have a huge supply of health and wellness products, tons of amazing content, and incredible event experiences that people wouldn’t dare miss. Yes!”
You can keep up with Grace & Grind on just about every social media platform @graceandgrindco and on Kharissa’s new personal blog at kforte.co.
Sophie Oswald (she/her) is a writer and creator currently living in Kansas City. She got her degree in mass media with an emphasis in film and video from Washburn University. She also has minors in art, history, and women’s studies. When Sophie isn’t writing or volunteering her time to social justice, she can be found hanging out with her pets.
Travis Young (he/him) is a Kansas City based photographer with roots in photojournalism and visual storytelling. He enjoys using film cameras to help him process, celebrate, and challenge his understanding in topics of race, gender, status, and mental health. When not behind a camera, you can find him creating things in 3D, obsessing over your grandmother’s dope Volvo Wagon from the 80’s, or getting lost in some tedious cleaning activity because he is a relentless Virgo.