CEO, Polished Strategic Communications
When Katara McCarty walks into a room, she radiates light. It’s no surprise that when she reflects on her trajectory to date, it’s filled with purpose, passion, and service to people—so much so, that it’s easy to forget she’s revolutionized the way that Black women access critical well-being resources through the creation of her tech company, EXHALE. Though McCarty stands at the forefront of a movement that seeks to redefine the boundaries of leadership, compassion, and worldwide inclusivity—she’s ensuring that every Black woman can access support from the palm of their hand.
A Passion for Inclusion
As a multiracial, adopted daughter, McCarty saw inclusion modeled early on, and with these values, in 2000, McCarty found herself, alongside her husband, pastoring a church in Marion, Indiana. While McCarty wasn’t raised in the church, she and her husband discovered that the community needed just that, community, so she sought to provide a space where all were welcome. Through their church, McCarty had created a safe place where all residents, especially under-resourced residents, were welcome.
As the congregation continued to expand, the Marion community quickly came alongside the McCartys who developed key after-school programs to support community members. Working families could utilize the program to ensure their children had after-school snacks, support with homework, and positive play opportunities with peers. Quickly, participating families noted grades and family systems were positively benefitting from the program—which is when the McCartys began to dream bigger.
“As our resources grew, we found greater support from local residents,” McCarty recalls. “Eventually, our church community was able to launch the Center for Success, an after-school program to support under-resourced students while also starting a school in Zambia, Africa to drill boreholes so villages in Zambia could have clean water. These projects evolved very organically, and I always felt if we could do more to make the world better, we should.”
However in 2017, after spearheading beautiful growth in and beyond Marion, McCarty and her family packed up to relocate to Indianapolis. With a new location, and kids who were off to college, McCarty found herself struggling to pinpoint exactly what was next.
Embracing the Pain
After arriving in Indianapolis and immersing herself in a journey of self-reflection, McCarty achieved her coaching certification and began her own practice. She was incredibly successful in this space, and yet, something was missing.
“Coaching combines many of the things that I love—passion, purpose, and people–but very quickly after launching my practice, I realized I had drifted away from the people I am most passionate about serving,” McCarty said. “I am passionate about supporting the most marginalized communities, so I shifted my coaching practice to Black Women and supporting them in their well-being journey. Doing this work has been transformational. Coaching Black Women fueled my desire to keep leaning into this space.”
Until the pandemic sat the world down.
“The pandemic illustrated the undeniable influence of systemic racism,” McCarty shared. “Health equity was and continues to be a leading threat to Black wellness worldwide. COVID-19 impacted the Black community disproportionately, bringing more stress, anxiety, and trauma to our lives.”
But it wasn’t just the pandemic. The summer of 2020 brought a tipping point for racial injustice in the United States. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Andre Hill, and too many others at the hands of law enforcement officials nearly paralyzed McCarty, until she decided to act.
“At an online gathering during the pandemic, Black leaders were reflecting on George Floyd’s murder, and I recall a statement that stuck with me, that the Black community has to stop waiting for the government to save us because historically they have not shown up for the Black community. We have to save ourselves,” McCarty recalled. “That was a turning point for me.”
As McCarty began contemplating what she could do to contribute to Black people right now, she quickly found ways to get engaged. Along with her two daughters, McCarty began traveling to cities near and far to participate in Black Lives Matter protests. And while she found the act of being with the community advocating for change powerful actions, she struggled to find tools that could support her mental health.
“Our family would return from these protests feeling empowered and hopeful that our voices would be heard, only to engage with white community members as if nothing had happened,” McCarty said. “The experience of engaging with white colleagues who did not participate in the movement because they did not feel like it affected them was frustrating and hurtful.”
That realization led McCarty down a path of research, on a quest to find well-being and mental health support tools—and while she found there were some on the market, she quickly discovered that they didn’t address the unique needs faced by Black women. And while this glaring omission was a setback, nothing could snuff out McCarty’s fire.
A New Tool—and Data Behind It.
The EXHALE app consists of content curated by BIWOC and serves as a resource where visitors can visit “as often as they’d like to find refuge and healing during their emotional well-being journey.” EXHALE offers four categories of well-being practice. They include meditations, breathwork techniques, calming sounds, and a thought of the day or daily affirmations. These features focus on the intersectional identities of Black Women and center their needs.But McCarty didn’t stop with the app.
“As a Black woman, raised by Black women, I understand our shared experiences are uniquely ours,” McCarty explained. “It was critical that as EXHALE evolved, we continued to listen to our users. We created opportunities to ask Black women what they needed to determine where we could better resource tools available.”
In a landmark moment for the world of emotional well-being and mental health support, EXHALE, the pioneering emotional well-being app exclusively designed for Black women and Women of Color, conducted and released the “The State of Self-Care for Black Women” report. This first-of-its-kind report offers an in-depth exploration of the mental, emotional, and physical health experiences of Black Women, shedding light on the unique challenges they face in today’s society.
Gathering responses from 1,005 Black Women across the United States, this report strives to bridge a crucial gap in survey data pertaining to the intersectional experiences of Black women and their struggles with stress. The findings unearth the profound impact of racial trauma, stereotypes, and discrimination on the daily lives of Black women, both in the workplace and their personal domains.
Shockingly, almost half of the Black women surveyed confess to stress significantly affecting their daily lives, with a staggering 25% revealing that they have been hospitalized or required medical care due to stress-related issues. The report also underscores a startling fact: a remarkable 76% of respondents believe there is a pervasive perception that Black women are innately stronger and should bear more stress than others. Alarmingly, 66% confess to overexerting themselves to excel in their careers and fulfill personal responsibilities.
While the availability of resources to manage stress has expanded in recent times, this report reveals that Black women face formidable barriers when trying to access formal mental health resources—and it provided a guidepost to help McCarty and her team improve the app in its second iteration.
Learning to EXHALE
In all her endeavors, Katara’s purpose shines brilliantly—to ensure that Black women, often the unsung pillars of strength in their communities, are given the tools, respect, and care they rightly deserve. With a heart filled with passion and an unyielding vision, she continues her journey, inspiring many and changing the narrative one exhale at a time. Katara McCarty is not just a leader; she is a beacon of hope and empowerment for Black women everywhere.
Casey Cawthon Harrison
Casey (Cawthon) Harrison has been a lifelong Hoosier since she was two years old. Harrison is a two-time graduate of IUPUI, most recently with her master’s in applied communication specializing in business media. Harrison currently serves as the vice president of marketing and communications with the Indy Chamber and recently celebrated her eleventh year as an associate faculty at IUPUI.