Baltimost: Joyell Arvella, founder and CEO of harp + sword

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Credit: Schaun Champion, Fluffy Pop Postcards

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Joyell Arvella, 31, is the founder and CEO of harp + sword, a consulting and advocacy firm that promotes racial and gender justice. In her words:

“I was born in Colorado and spent my childhood in Germany because my father served in the military. Since then, I have traveled and lived in 15 countries, but Baltimore is my base because I have been in this city longer than anywhere else. This city has made me blossom in a lot of ways.

I grew up in a two-parent household. My siblings and I were taught to work hard, have compassion for others, and never get tired of doing what is right. I went to high school on the Eastern Shore and got into Washington College on a full scholarship as the first Vincent Hynson Scholar. I started out pre-med, but after taking my first African American Literature course, I switched to black studies.

My parents weren’t too happy, but reading Zora Neale Hurston‘s writings changed my life. In fact, the name harp + sword comes from her quote: ‘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.’

After college, I came to Baltimore to work in the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. The experience made me confront my internalized racism and respectability politics. I was humbled and decided to get a law degree so I could change the systems that harm black and brown people.

After graduating from the New England Law School, in Boston, I did some pro bono work, then got a job with the United Nations in the Netherlands. But I didn’t feel like I was living my purpose.

After working for nonprofits, government agencies, and public schools for 12 years, I started harp + sword because I was tired of organizations using marginalized communities–especially women of color–for their monetary gain.

I opened my consulting practice with only $2,000 saved and gave myself six months to try this business owner thing full-time. We now have partners and clients in Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Brooklyn, and of course, Baltimore.

I love the small businesses in Baltimore. One of my favorites is Knits Soy & Metal. The owner, Letta Moore, hand-pours the candles, or you can make your own. I like East Africa Amber. It has a very earthy, warm and homey smell. It’s not too sweet.”



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