Party Like a Marketer Podcast
Episode 6: Social Equity in the Cannabis Industry
Lisa Buffo, Founder & CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association, sat down with Darius Kemp, Head of Equity & Community Change at Eaze, to discuss the ways in which marketers can actively use their resources to promote social equity within the cannabis industry. For more information, visit: https://wordpress-958299-3343185.cloudwaysapps.com
Read the Transcript
Lisa Buffo Hi, everyone. Welcome to today’s episode of Party Like a Marketer. Today’s guest is Darius Kemp, the Head of Equity and Community Change at Eaze. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama Darius grew up in a union household as his dad was the member of the road workers union, which is very unusual in the South and a mother who was a nurse through his education at a historically black University, Alabama A and M and experiences growing up queer in the South.
He developed a passion for improving the living conditions of underserved communities, receiving his BA in political science and criminal justice. And after working on various political campaigns in Alabama, he joined the service employees, international union as an organizer. After several years, mobilizing and engaging with workers in unions, he joined the Peace Corps and served in Jamaica as an at-risk youth advisor.
Following the Peace Corps, Darius enrolled in graduate school at the University of Birmingham in England, receiving an ma in political science and international relations with a concentration on human rights. Returning to the U S over the next decade, Darius became the Organizing and Communications Director for the University of California student association, Regional Director for Working America, the Community Affiliate of the AFL CIO and joining the representation project, the creators of misrepresentation and the mask you live in as the Director of Mobilization. In pursuit of more autonomy, he began just kind consulting to support organizational change and advise progressive political campaigns. Currently Darius serves as the Head of Equity and Community Change at Eaze Technologies, focusing on improving the cannabis industry standards for social equity, partnerships and systemic change.
Darius. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
Darius Kemp: Hey Lisa, thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Lisa Buffo: Of course. So I always like to start this and find out a little bit more about who Darius is and how you got here. Could you tell us a little bit about, your career and your work prior to cannabis and what brought you to this space?
Darius Kemp: Yeah. I actually have a very abnormal, entryway into cannabis. I think a lot of people would say that they started off, you know, maybe, selling it illegally, you know, when they were younger or some people would say, “Oh, I was, I’ve been a long time grower and cultivator because I understand the medicines and, and, you know, or indigenous folks or folks from the global South.”
Right. I might have these kinds of deep roots, roots and connections to the plant. I, however, come from, the, the kind of American Western eyes black. Background of this. And what that means is that, for most of my life, I’m originally from Alabama, most of my life, cannabis was a, was tough. It was like, Oh no.
Oh, those losers and layabouts smoke weed. Losers, lay abouts, ragamuffins, rap scallions, call them whatever you want. Right. And, I am supposed to be, you know, and I’m pretty much a nerd. Anyone that knows me knows I’m pretty much a nerd. So I’ve always been kind of like book smart, like, well, I’m reading, you know, making straight A’s or doing that kind of jazz.
Right? So, the fear of cannabis was always placed inside of me. So. you know, I’m going to tell my first time I smoked weed, if you don’t mind.
Lisa Buffo: Oh, please, please.
Darius Kemp: So, one of my closest friends, God rest her soul, she passed away last year in a car accident. We’ve known each other, we had known each other since we were in high school.
So, we went to the summer camp with teenagers, yada yada, yada, we go to college, we go back and work at the summer camp, yada yada yada. And so, you know, one summer we’re, you know, in Alabama. Yeah. All in Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama, where I’m from. And one summer after, you know, we worked at the summer camp, you know, we’re out, you know, still on summer break from college.
Oh, well actually this is after I graduated from college and I tell him like, I’m going to, I’m going to backpack across Europe for the summer after, you know, the, you know, in a couple of weeks. that’s my senior. That was my graduation present to myself. I was like white people. Aren’t the only people that can backpack across Europe.
Yes, and my friend Gloria was this Korean woman, you know, love her to death and, and our friend. They tell me, she’s like, “I’m not going to send a black man to Amsterdam, to Europe and Amsterdam never having smoked weed.” Cause I had never smoked weed. I was like 23 years old, never smoked weed. And I was like, okay.
And so basically they hotbox me and we get like, In their car, her car in the parking lot, like a week before I go the year, just to get a sample, to be fair, she was 100% correct about me. About that because I go to Amsterdam, first night I’m there, I walk into the bulldog hostel, which was very famous back in the day.
And I look up and who do I see? But literally two people also from Birmingham, Alabama, that me and Gloria also know smoking weed at the bar. So I felt very comfortable being like, Hey dad, I’ll smoke one with you. I’ve done this before. So, so she was always right, is the point I’m making here. But that’s the, you know, the long and short of it is that like, you know, the fear cannabis is putting, been put into me so long up until I was 23, I was like, “oh,” and then I smoked.
I was like, “Oh, this isn’t bad.” This is, it helps me expand my mind think about bigger things and communicate with partners and friends and what it was actually a really great feeling. So, that’s how I got brought into cannabis. And to get through all the worky stuff, after college I went to, so I went to an HBCU, historically black colleges and universities, Alabama, A and M University, go Bulldogs,
and, after that I went into labor union work. I worked for NCIU for a number of years. Then I went to the Peace Corps and served in Jamaica. That’s really where I learned where good weed comes from. Don’t tell the United States Peace Corps I said that, but, yeah, it’s, it’s great. Jamaica has great weed, great cannabis. And then I went to graduate school in England, got my master’s degree in human rights, came back to the States and worked in non-profit work, went back working in labor for awhile, did LGBTQ work worked fight for marriage equality, work to fight for rights for students with the University of California Student Association, organizing marches, protest rallies, engaging strikes and whatnot.
So I come from the cannabis space from a community organizing and community engagement.
Lisa Buffo: That’s awesome. And so what, What brought you from Alabama to California, and when did you make that transition? Did you go, did you do high school, college, Alabama, Jamaica, London, California?
Darius Kemp: Something like that, yeah. Yeah. It was a very, I was very convoluted. Like, yeah. I spent most of my life in Alabama. Like I traveled a lot. My sister was actually born in California. She’s born in Venice. it’s spent most of her and my mom lived in, California in the business area back when Venice was actually a black neighborhood.
Believe it or not like most people I didn’t know about this history. So I was talking to my mom about it recently. So I was telling her about her E’s office that is near Venice. I’m just going to say that, just go up to figure out where it is, but, and, I was telling her that, and she was like, “Oh, Venice, that’s where your sister was born.”
And that’s where, like, it was a really black neighborhood back in the day, and so it was really fascinating. So, my family has always had deep roots in California. I have cousins, family, my sister was born here. But yeah, after, after I got back from England, I actually got a job offer in, in Oakland. And I had always wanted to live in San Francisco and in the Bay Area in Oakland. And so I took it up and ran and I’ve been here in the Bay for about 11 years now.
Lisa Buffo: Awesome. Awesome. So you were doing so, so you’re in the Bay area, you’re doing community engagement, organizing for the LGBTQ community and then…
Darius Kemp: a bunch of communities like students, black, like I, you know, I, I did a lot of work with the New Leaders Council, a lot of work with men and boys of color programs with the, Greenlining. I think it was Greenlining Institute and some other folks as well. So yeah.
Lisa Buffo: And then what, what was sort of your first step into cannabis, career-wise, was Eaze it?
Darius Kemp: Yeah, Eaze was it because, so, I, I was working with The Representation Project, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. They make movies, documentaries, social kind of social justice or social, kind of consciousness, movies. and so I was working with them as the Engagement Director for, The Representation Project, which was run by, Gavin Newsome’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsome, Governor of California, the first partner, I think she calls herself these days. and yeah, and, and so I left that position and went to, and started my own consulting company called Just Kind Consulting, justinkind.com.
And, I did that for about a year and in that process, I realized how big cart is to bring your own company and your own consulting company.
Lisa Buffo: Yes.
Darius Kemp: Yeah. And so, about, about a year in, my cousin called me and said like, Hey, you live in California. I would love to invest in weed. I hear this like, y’all legalize it recreationally. It’s like, this was at the start of the green rush, you know, right after adult legalization here in California in 17. And, he was like, “Hey, I’d love to invest. Can you maybe figure out like ways to do that?” And I was like, “Okay, I’m a consultant. This is what I do. Let me do some research and figure this out.”
And in my research, I realized like, oh, wow, like first I realized that one of the core issues to cannabis was social equity: how are black and brown folks, how are people who are affected by the war on drugs, making money, how are they engaging in this community? How are they being economically uplifted? Black and brown people were devastated by the War on Drugs for so many years.
Black people were incarcerated at four, 10 times the rate of white people who also use the same drug, cannabis, weed, at the same exact levels as everybody else, Asian, black, doesn’t matter. We all use cannabis at the same percentage level for our population. So why are, you know, so why are we laying this burden on black people?
Well, first we laid the, the prison burden on black people, black and brown people. Then, we laid the economic burden on them as well. In the sense of, you know, the cannabis space being, being so expensive to get into social equity, not being focused. So I noticed that problem and I called my cousin and was like, “Well, here’s some what I found,” but what I really, you know, in my mind, I was like, this is not, how do I really engage canvas?
I was like fascinated by it. Because by that point I had been a cannabis user for, you know what, since I was 23 reasonably, since I was like, maybe like 25, but like, you know, it’s been over 15 years by that point. So I was like, you know, I’m an organizer. I’m a, you know, I believe in certain rights and justice for people, especially black people.
So, I went looking for a job in canvas because I realized, well, If I want to, if affect this, this community, this ecosystem, this economy, this burgeoning nascent economy, I’d like to understand how it works, who are the power players, what companies are big. And, and, and for me, I feel like the only way to get that kind of inside knowledge is to actually go inside. And so I went looking for careers and can’t stay at, would allow me to use my organizing community skills, in a way to better hopefully the cannabis, culture and community.
Lisa Buffo: And so, so you were living in Oakland at the time. And, you came across…
Darius Kemp: I live in San Francisco now, but I lived five years in Oakland. I’m like, this is our main six years San Francisco. It’s very, yeah. Housing is an issue in the Bay area.
Lisa Buffo: It definitely is. I totally understand that. Yeah. So then, so, so how did you come across Eaze and was the, was the Community Manager position available or was that, you know, kind of created for, for you and this, this role.
Darius Kemp: It was available. But you know, what was interesting is that, you know, when I joined Eaze, Eaze was very much articulating the point that we’re a tech company, not a cannabis company. and Eaze still is actually. Yeah, you know, 2018 actually, but, but it is actually the fact Eaze is a technology company, but, the way we engaged in cannabis kind of muddied that water a little bit.
Right. because as a tech company, we do not have the right or our ability to like, Demand that people who own the licenses, the ones who own the delivery, depots that work utilizing our platform to sell cannabis, you know, w we can demand certain things and engage in certain ways. And so, you know, fast forward, like two years since I’ve been at the company almost two years, since I’ve been with the company, we’ve started this verticalization process where we actually, have multiple structures. Eaze stays a technology company while there is a, a separate arm of the overall corporate structure that allows for management and more direct control over cannabis licenses. So, so to your point, when I joined, it was very much like a thought process of like a normal tech company, right?
Like, you know, Instacart or, you know, You know, think Salesforce or whatnot, right? Like, Oh, you need to engage with the community of the folks who use our product. Right? So, so it was that. What I also learned is that most cannabis companies did not have a staffer that engaged in social equity, community, or any sort of like kind of non direct sales or anything that wasn’t sales or cultivation or licensing or legal, it’s like most cannabis companies kind of blocked it out and didn’t really engage them.
So Eaze was one of the first and only company is actually hiring people to engage with the cannabis community.
Lisa Buffo: And so, so what’s the nature of your job? Like how, how do you approach engaging with the community? and how does that benefit Eaze and, and the industry?
Darius Kemp: Yeah, so the nature of my job is, Multi-tiered so multifold, you know, I have to say, I, I give a lot of credit to, the team at Eaze, everyone, because, it really was a lot of, it was a really fun, it’s a fun startup culture in the sense that, I come in, they’re like, “Here’s what we want you to do.”
Alright. You know, I spend the first month or two trying to dissect, figure out what they want me to do, and what’s doable, what’s not doable, what I want to do, figure out what pieces I want to add to the puzzle. And we figure out that parts of what they wanted me to do aren’t necessarily we’re able to do as a company, but there are these other parts sat down ways to, to integrate in.
So, to your point, we’re able to find ways to integrate it in a lot of work around black and brown communities, around, younger, more progressive communities, right? Trying to really engage more with black communities directly. Cause that’s something I think the company had not fully, engaged in, when I joined, there was not really a full engagement around the traditional cannabis culture, the black folks who helped create the original cannabis culture here in California, in the Bay Area.
And so I wanted to use any connections that I had to do that also, cannabis in California has a very specific, lense to it comes to labor. And so most people don’t know that California, when they legalized recreational, also passed a law that required that, cannabis companies with more than 20 employees would have to sign a labor peace agreement. That’s not a contract, that’s not some sort of bargaining agreement, it’s just a, a memorandum of understanding to say that we use a cannabis company, understand the rights of workers to unionize if they want, if the workers want, and we have gotten to a peaceful agreement to work with the union, to help look at that, angle of our, our workforce, if the workers want to organize, and done in a peaceful way.
So it’s not contentious, it’s not a fighting thing. And luckily, I had over a six years of experience in labor youth. So what happened is, is that over the months, in my first year, my work evolved into also engaging very heavily with our partners and labor unions, because I had deep connections with labor in California, before joining EAs, engaging very directly with communities of color, and trying to inter ingrain them into the system.
Work of the company, and also, engaging more directly with our Depot partners. Those are the ones who actually, yeah. Sell the weed, manage the drivers, do the day-to-day work. so how can we best as community, as, as Eaze in our community staff support our deepest app on the ground in neighborhoods with staff, like what can we do to support the drivers?
What can we do to support, them engaging with the community as a whole so that we can be good actors in this space.
Lisa Buffo: That’s awesome. so. Tell me a little bit more about some ways in which I want to go more into the social equity conversation. And I think it’s something that is, obviously getting more is being talked about more now these days. We’re seeing States like New York who aren’t passing adult use bills and less, not only is that included, but that it’s included properly. So we’re starting to see change, you know, on the legislative front as well, but as far as brands and what they can do and how they can engage with community, what are, what are some steps that you would suggest or recommend for cannabis companies to start, not only engaging in this conversation further, but, but engaging with their community? What if they maybe don’t have an Eaze budget or they don’t have the resources? What are some, some immediate first steps that you, you can say as an organizer and as, as a person in this community, what would you suggest to brands. How can they do that better? And what do you see, working or being effective?
Darius Kemp: Yeah. So I’m going to give a shout out to like, so for an example, I’ll give a really good example, a very recent one. So, you know, with all the uprisings and the people really voicing their, want, their voices and opinions heard too, I looked at officials and as a society, as a whole around anti-blackness and racism is that we are, so we, I got outreached to you by one of our brand’s staffers reached out to me and said, Hey, I got a call from, I’m going to give this is a good shout out. So hopefully they’re not going to be mad at me, but, and they’re on our menu. I love them to death. They make the best edibles. It’s called Atlas. I don’t know. Have you ever had them?
Lisa Buffo: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve heard of Atlas
Darius Kemp: A Berkeley based company, amazing. They make the most amazing granola edibles that are just perfect. And they’re all like healthy, great flavors and they’re all like, it’s so organic. It’s great. Right? I’m so California right now. but, but they reached out and said, “Hey, we don’t have a lot of resources,” right?
They’re like, yeah, we’re, we’re, we’re a strong company, but we’re not like, we’re not, you know, billions on billions of dollars. Right? We don’t have all this money to throw, you know, to just give out to anyone. So they were like, we have limited resources. How can we effectively use those limited resources?
So that was, you know, for me, that was a very good, like that was a very good, like notice for me that a lot of companies, want to do something, but don’t know how. And, they are reaching out to their partners that may have the expertise, the staff, myself, others in, in the space figure out that.
So first I would say, like ask the right questions. What money do you have available? So start with that. What, what resources do you have available? Do you have sweat equity? Do you have staff that are willing to do things? Do you have financial resources? Do you have, you know, cannabis resources, right?
Do you have cannabis products you are willing to give out for compassionate care and other things like that? So, so that’s the first thing. Figure out what resources you have available and then like Atlas, once you figured that out, you realize, you say you reach out to your broader community and say like, Hey folks, we want to target our resources, who are the people that we can target to? Right? Cause I will say the cannabis community and space is very tight knit. Like the old school cannabis community, the folks who’ve been doing it for years and years and years, they are hella tight knit. And even in this space where you have like big companies, you have Eaze and, and, and, and, you know, cleavers and Humboldt farms and all these folks, right, old pals, you know, right. Even with these kind of big spaces, they, you know, you can find ways to like, get that support, work with folks, figure out within this tight knit circle, who’s actually doing the work, because I have to say, you know, there are people out there, as, as people do in life in general that are taking advantage of the situation. Upheaval and uprisings and revolutions do cause disturbances, you know, it causes for destruction of property, sometimes. It causes for, things that aren’t necessarily things I, I approve of and would like to see happen, but you know, these things happen in the world as people are trying to have their rights and their voices heard.
And so there are people out there who take advantage of that. So, we want to make sure that we’re targeting. We, it should be very clear to partners to try to target your resources on people are taking advantage of the situation. So, there, there are, for example, there are folks out there who legitimately equity companies got hit by, their buildings being broken into their products being stolen. They, you know, one of our equity partners, you know, lost 50, a hundred thousand dollars in product, like for a small company that, you know, he does most of the work himself. Yeah. Like he packages the product. Like he does all the things he does, the deliveries he’s the district.
And so, you want to, I would say also find those people reach out and say like, “Hey, you’re an equity, you’re, you’re an equity company. You’re a black owned company.” All right. You may have been, let’s see, figure out how you can help that company. Figure out how you as a, an entity can actually engage, in these companies. At the end of the day, people just want to be heard and they want to be ingrained into the business practices.
People think you have to create a, you know, people, I think, I think my experience is that people think you have to create a sort of some sort of specific affirmative action program where you set up quotas and deadlines and like, well, we will have 10% of this being given by black people, and we will have 10% of our company being hired by black people.
And that is disrespectful to black people. And it’s disrespectful to the process as a whole. What you need to do, what people need to do is figure out who are the black people doing stuff? There black people out there today doing stuff, engage with it, just say, “Hey, I’m here to listen, learn and support. What can I do?” And that’s a great place to just start.
Lisa Buffo: I like that. So you’re, you’re saying to summarize, ask the right questions, reach, reach out to those in your immediate community, who are doing the work, take inventory of what you do have available and whether it’s sweat equity, actual money, capital, you know, employees time that can be donated, ask questions, take inventory, reach out to your community and essentially, not overcomplicate it with like quotas and numbers and adding structure that you can, you can have impact and make it simple without trying to, I dunno if do too much is the right word, but without trying to systemize it and process it in a way that feels inauthentic.
Darius Kemp: Exactly. No, you’re exactly right. Oh, thank you for summarizing my very long chart, but no, you’re exactly right. You know, the issue with this idea of quotas or specific number targets, like at the end of the day, it’s disrespectful, because it does not, it’s not authentic enough because it doesn’t really say “I’m trying to find the best black person, I’m trying to find the best diverse staffer.”
It says, I just need a body to fill a hole. And if you have a body to, if you’re just looking at a body to fit the gap in your business, then you pick anybody. You just, you find somebody, whether or not they’re good qualified or not. And then subsequently what happens is either that person may not, that person may be great, like, you know, awesome.
But also, that person may not have actually been qualified for that position. And so you put them at a deficit because you didn’t set them up for success. Or that person is not then therefore supported. They’re just like, oh, they were the equity hire. they were the, they were the affirmative hire, you know, we had to, you know, we’re trying to diversify so people didn’t like think we were racist. So, you know, we hired this black person, we hired this, this Latino person.” And so that’s also inauthentic. It does not feel great for the person hired because then they don’t feel like they’re really valued at the company.
Lisa Buffo: Yeah. And I think what you said, is a really good point that I want to reiterate about setting up whatever the initiative is for success. And, you know, we’re hearing a lot of talk about, performative allyship and people who are acting too. To make the statement because they have to, and now’s the time, but I think there’s a lot to be said for, regardless of what you’re doing on a bigger, small level, that making sure it’s authentic and that there’s follow through and that the follow through can be,alyou know, even if it’s measured on a really small scale, but that the follow through can happen. And that the action, the step is taken, that the action is taken, you know, regardless of your resources. So I like, I like that language around setting it up for success and making sure whatever the initiative you’re doing, that that plan is in place.
Darius Kemp: Yeah. Yeah. You need to, yeah. Companies should set out a pipeline, right? Like, and also look at this as don’t look at this as like short term or in immediate. Yeah, look at it as ingrained into the marrow of your company. So I use this example internally at Eaze that, when you, you set up programs and initiatives for diversity or hiring a women or whatever it is, what happens is these things become siloed.
They sit over here, the company is here, these things sit over here and they want to layer on top, right? They just want to lay it on top and say like, “Look, we have this thing.” What I argue for companies, including my own is that we, and, and luckily my company is very receptive to this, and I appreciate that is that we, ingrain it into the marrow, into the bone, into the structure because it is easy.
Have you ever made a cake before?
Lisa Buffo: A few. Not many, not many but a few.
Darius Kemp: Right. If you have a layer cake, right? Say you just, you know, you’re starting to make a cake or you’re starting to, you have all the pieces together and you put another layer on top of a cake. But you’re like, but at a certain point you realize I don’t like that layer or it’s ugly, or I just don’t, it doesn’t look good.
You can always just take that layer off. And that’s how I think about these programs when you look at a layering effect. If at any time you think it’s not economical, you just get tired of it, or it’s caused more harm, quote, unquote, whatever that might be than good in your eyes, the company’s eyes, they just take that layer off.
You can easily, you know, a budget crunch happens. Oh, we gotta take layers off. What layers can we take up, right? And that oftentimes become the first layer to leave, right? And so I argue for ingraining, these things deep into the marrow of the company. So it becomes by unraveling this thread, it, you unravel the company.
That’s how you have to fight anti-blackness and racism is that you have to ingrain it so deep into the culture, you have to put it into the marrow of your company structure so that people know that, our, our pipeline for black and brown applicants, our sourcing structure for social equity cannabis, our branding of structures, all integrate black and brown people, all integrate social equity companies so intrinsically that we can’t just cut this out. We can’t take that layer off because if we take that layer off, we’ve actually just destroyed the whole cake. And nobody wants to destroy the whole cake. And that’s how systematic oppression actually happens. People say, “Oh, well this is a big problem. How do we fix it?”
And then they layer these structures on it. And then the moment people start arguing about those structures, they start taking them off and say like this isn’t working, this isn’t good. But if you ingrain these structures so deep into your program, into your system, you can never take them out unless you want to revamp the entire system. And whether we see right now in the world, people saying restructure everything, defund the police, restructure how everything is done, because the structures that are built are not appropriate and not working. And so that’s what you need to do in these rebuilding of structures.
When you look at your company, say, what is the structure of our company to fight anti-blackness what’s the typically did we do? And how do we integrate that into the work we do?
Lisa Buffo: I love, I love that example of what the cake that makes it so, so clear. So just to get a little more tangible with that, so in terms of building these structures, that cannot be, you know, pulled apart when things get tough, you know, you had mentioned about having a really solid pipeline of black candidates and making sure that your, your community outreach is solid and strong and that you’re touching everybody so that, you know, to your point earlier saying, if you have the diversity hire, but it’s maybe not the best person, if that pipeline is full and robust, not only can you find the right candidate.
but they can, they will be the best fit for your company. So, can you talk a little bit more, I just want to get a little bit more at the tangible ways that companies can do this, cause I think we’re people are starting to get this concept, but not understanding how maybe to do that without it seeming like, you know, putting quotas and numbers and making it seem inauthentic, like what are some ways in which, which you can make it inextricably intertwined with the company, and feel authentic. I know that’s sort of a nebulous question, but I, I just want to try to get it some more, actionable steps for our listeners as well.
Darius Kemp: Yeah, I, that’s a really good question. And I think at the end of the day, it starts with the core question. You know, I’m a very big fan of the Socratic method, the idea of asking questions to help someone aluminate their own answers in their own truth. And so, I think all of this starts with questions. You know, start with what is our company’s role in fighting anti-blackness, how has our company engaged in fighting anti-blackness? What have we done in the past? What do we want to do in the future? How much do we actually want to put into this?
Once again, to your point, let’s make it authentic. How much do you actually want to put into this? If you say, Oh, well, you know, for example, there are a lot of companies out there dropping a million dollars here dropping $25,000 there, dropping a hundred thousand dollars here, and just giving into groups and programs and whatnot. And that’s super, super great. That doesn’t solve anti-blackness and racism, though. Right? At the, at the core, we all have to do hard work and ,so the first step is just asking the right question to say, like, what are you willing to give up here?
Because fighting racism and fighting anti-blackness requires a lot of money, time and effort, I’m not going to lie to you. Not like half of your budget or something like, no, no, no, no, no, no, but you gotta put some skin in the game. You gotta make sure it counts. I told people recently, I said, “You know, we, as we move forward in the cannabis space, thinking we want to really fight anti-blackness fight racism, and we want to support the black and brown folks affected by the War on Drugs who are starting cannabis, business, social equity companies. If we do not have a line, if we don’t have a budget for it, if we do not have money put behind it, if there is not substantial amount of resources that, shows the company’s serious about it, then keep your thoughts and prayers. Because that’s all, anything else is anything else other than time, deep integration into the company, money, resources, staffing time, all of these things. If all those things, all those tangible things are not ingrained into your solution, you might as well call it thoughts and prayers and just keep it for yourself. Because, I, you know, I have, I have two degrees in political science, so I, I, I’m a political history nerd and buff, if you will. And, there’s a saying in politics that, you know, budgets define your values. so if you ever want to see the value of a country, what countries value you see, where they spend the most of their money? Where do we spend the most of our money here in the United States? The military.
Lisa Buffo: Yeah, by far.
Darius Kemp: What do we value? We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined in the world, combined. Take the next 10, combine them and ours is like three times theirs. You know what I mean? Sso, so what does that tell you? Well, that tells you what our values are. Our values, our guns, bombs, and bullets.
While you look at other countries, let’s take a United Kingdom for a really great example. I used to live there. You know what their number one budgetary issue is?
Lisa Buffo: What is it?
Darius Kemp: The NHS, the National Health Service. They spend most of their money, doctors, nurses, healthcare, psychiatrists, training folks, making sure that everything is like, make sure they have a system. They makes sure everyone gets healthcare and no one dies of cancer, because they just simply don’t have health insurance. There is no, you know, in, in the UK, you can buy private health insurance and that private health insurance is literally like, “I want a private room,” or “I want to do plastic surgery.” It’s for like fancy stuff that is not. It all like life threatening.
But they spend the majority of their money on healthcare. And so that should be the question that companies ask. Where do we spend a majority of the money, right? Are we spending on lavish drinks, hotels? You know, I remember reading an article about, you know, about how the previous CEO, not the current one, I believe, but the previous, spent, spent millions on it and parties and private jets and so on and so forth.
And so I asked every cannabis company, if you have money on private jets and two dinners at Nobu in LA. You know what I mean? If you have money for all that, and you’re telling me you have no money for social equity, then there is, your values are wrong.
Lisa Buffo: Yeah. That’s, that’s fair. And I think that’s a really good point to bring up about budgets. I, I love that, that what you said. so I want to get into, you know, kind of last question in concept here, about how to talk about this. And, and I’m saying this from the perspective of, I, I’m seeing brands obviously posting about what they’re doing, what action steps they’re taking. And I think there’s this line again, of taking steps, posting them on social media, and doing it to hold yourself publicly accountable.
But also there’s a perception. It can feel like poor performative allyship. And so how, how do you as a brand sort of understand, and again, I know this is a difficult question, but like, what is that line and how do you, how, how do you engage in these initiatives and hold yourself publicly accountable and tell your customers, tell your constituents about it, post about it, let people know, “Hey, here’s what we’re doing,” and do it in a way that is authentic?
Darius Kemp: Yeah. So, you know, this is, you know, I don’t really pay attention, you know, I’m not a marketer. But, I do love the news and, and, and I, I pay attention to all this stuff. And I will say that, recently, I don’t know if you’ve watched the blow up about Adidas or Adidas, cause they’re German.
So I was in Germany and they were like, Oh, it Adidas. I was like, “Oh, it was not pronounced Adidas? Okay.”
Lisa Buffo: I’ve been wrong my whole life.
Darius Kemp: I know. It’s like, who knew? But, Adidas. So, recently, you know, last week Adidas actually did, to your point, they post it on social media, they get money, you know, Black Lives Matter or some black oriented group.
And then they, they, they posted, you know, we stand with Black Lives Matter and we stand with, you know, fighting racism and yada yada, yada, and then a black assistant designer at Adidas wrote a letter to the company and then sent it to the newspaper, you know, published it, for everyone to see it basically said like “Adidas is saying black lives matter, but let me tell you the truth about Adidas.”
And they like went through the litany of black people at Adidas have been complaining about this forever and y’all have done nothing. So say black lives matter, but the black people in your company don’t feel like we matter, right? And so then Adidas came out with another statement that said, we hear our staff we’re having, like this week, sometime this week, they’re having, an all company meeting to hear them, these things and to talk about them. You know, what would have been great Adidas? If you had had that out company meeting before he had made that statement.
How about, so that’s, that’s, that’s one thing, right? To, to, to your point, how do you be authentic? Well start by being actually authentic. Ask the question, having all company meetings and say like, “Hey. I don’t know if real good to our black staff.” You don’t have to say it like that.
That’s a little crass, a little too candid, but you can say like, “Hey, we’ve seen, we’ve heard issues. We probably ignored them in the past. We probably haven’t put as much as much effort as we should have. We’re in a different time and different world in a different space. And we want to listen.”
You know, I’m a strong believer in, you know, don’t yell at someone for showing late to the party, just as long as they got to the party. You know, as long as you’re getting to the party, that’s the most important business. So they trying to get to the party, the party is fighting anti-blackness So you want to actually be authentic.
And it’s fascinating that we actually have the conversation in our world around like how to be authentic. And the question is be authentic, like say what is in your heart? Say it in a nice way. Be tactical. Be strong, be empathetic. But the issue is then that, you know, I think too to some companies, I think the core question might be, if you can’t be authentic, what’s wrong with… what’s going on here>
right? Why can’t you be authentic? So, so one thing actually be authentic, be honest and earnest with your staff. Say, before you go out to world and proclaim how great you are and how much you support these, the blackness and black people, right. And fighting racism actually asked the black people. No, here’s the real question also, do you have any pull in your life to ask if the answer is, Oh wow.
If you don’t have one black person or two black people, once again, the question is answered, then they really are not aware of this. You have, so then you have to do the work. You know, white America, you gotta go out and do the work. Marketers, you got to go out and learn about racism. You got to learn about anti-blackness.
You got to learn about what your company is doing and all of this stuff. So, so, so to your point, learn, pick up a book, read, watch a movie that. People are throwing out, like, watch this documentary, read this book, like it’s, it’s littered with information today. So go out and learn. And then once you’ve done that, be as authentic as you can with your company and say, we want to do better. Tell us how we can do better. And to your point, I’m saying, figure out what that budget is, ask those questions. What are we willing to contribute to this? How are we going to integrate ingrain this into our company’s daily life so that it becomes like the air we breathe?
A friend of mine always used to tell me, like I’ve known him for like over 16 years and he’s Oh, Oh, Very much older than me. I like to make that joke to him, but he’s about 10 years older than me give or take. And I always liked to, he used to always say to me, “Oh, man. Racism.”
“Oh yeah.” I talked about racism, how bad is, he saying like, “Oh, it’s like the air we breathe.” And for years I knew what it meant,I really didn’t know what he meant. He’s black, he’s black. And he always used to say like, “Oh yeah, it’s like the…” anytime I would say something about racism or something, he’d be like, “Yeah, that’s like the air we breathe.” I would say like, “Oh man, like this happened, and that’s hard for the black people.” He’s like, “Yeah. That’s like the air we breathe,” until I actually realized that it’s like this systematic world with the racism, the anti-blackness it literally is the air we breathe.
You know, people make excuses for them not being racist or them not being anti-black because they specifically have not done anything. Like, I haven’t called anybody the N word, I haven’t told people who racist, horrible things, I haven’t not dated someone because they’re black, like I haven’t done these racist things, so therefore I can’t be racist.
When in actuality, racism, is in the air we breathe in the world. Whether or not, you know, whether or not these little aggressions, these micro things is the everything that happened in, and we do in our work is, is, is it’s just there. And so what we have to do is make anti-blackness the air we breathe.
We have to make anti-racism the air we breathe. We actually, and that comes from saying it in talk, you know, you have to like, say like, “I don’t have a lot of black friends. What’s that about?” Like, you actually have to say that to yourself.
Lisa Buffo: Yeah.
Darius Kemp: So to your, to the core point, it’s like be authentic, ask the right questions, try to understand your company and your people, and don’t go off on social media and the public saying what you believe in when your own house is not not in order.
one other really quick point to that is, you know, I’m, I, you know, I’m a big Glee fan. I was a really big fan Glee back in the day. I was a gleek. And recently Michelle, who was the star of the Glee is getting, ringed in, in social media, in the world, because she came out and said, “I stand with Black Lives Matter and we need to fight racism and anti-blackness,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then a black co-star of hers from the last season of Glee said, “Well, you said these horrible things to me that were hurtful and discriminatory and bad and whatnot,”
And then other people came out and said, “I don’t know if Lea Michelle is racist, but she really doesn’t treat people well.” Right? It’s just, “Oh, she treats everybody bad,” like white people were coming out saying, you know, Lea Michelle is pretty treated me horribly. Right. So what it, what it boils down to is like, look at yourself, look internally for you to go out and proclaim your values to the world don’t perform authentic authenticity. Be authenticity.
Lisa Buffo: I love that. And I, I, speaking of like phrases that resonate, I love the one that nothing changes without validation. And it feels like we’re in a big validation phase, you know, as a society right now of saying, we need to not acknowledge that this exists.
And while,, we also need to move towards solutions and we need to do that quickly, but we also need to validate at each level personally, professionally, you know, the companies you’re in the communities you live in, you know, the community is, all that you’re a part of, validate where these issues and where these discrepancies lie.
And then once you can really take that look and take stock and validate it is when you can start to ask the questions, start to reach out, start to take that inventory and move towards solutions that are authentic, appropriate, and sort of wholly vetted to some degree, and that that’s how we create change and that’s how we move the needle forward.
But it’s like that validation and that that asking questions phase cannot be missed.
Darius Kemp: It’s most important, right? It is the investigation period. It’s it’s, it’s where you learn your values, right? You, you read, you understand you, you gathered this information, you know, in graduate school, they always teach you like, one of my professors always say like, I don’t care what you think, just that you think.
Right? if you can come and investigate something, come to an earnest, honest opinion. And if you think to yourself, “Oh no, this is all blown over proportion and black people aren’t discriminated against,” then that’s your honest opinion, then go. Great. So be it, God bless. Get out of my way. But if you do the proper research, and stopped taking talking points and talking heads and look at the world that is in front of you, you have no choice, but I think, my opinion is to realize the discrepancies, the racial injustices, the anti-blackness that currently exists.
And if you can see that and you still say not my problem, then what are the real values? Who are you as a person? What do you actually believe in? And that’s something that is really, I want to also point out that companies do not use your black staff as your sounding board, counselor motivation, speaker, your… you know, we are not Morgan Freeman and driving miss Daisy. We are not Viola Davis in the help. We are not, you know, we are not any of these, you know, we are not the magical Negro trope. Have you ever heard of that trope, by any chance?
Lisa Buffo: No
Darius Kemp: If you look at movies, you can probably think of several movies right now off the top of your head, but oftentimes black people are depicted in various ways, pimps hoes, degenerates, blah, blah, blah, but one of the positive ways black people are oftentimes it, which is also problematic is the “magical Negro,” meaning that we are positioned as wise, learned, above the fray, more in tune with the world and reality, and then also try to impart that knowledge to our, the white star of the movie. So Will Smith and Bagger Vance. Lawrence Fishburne in the Matrix to Keanu Reeves. And the list just kind of goes on and on this magical Negro trope kind of, what’s his name? Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy, Viola Davis in The Help, the magical world trope.
And so, don’t rely upon us to validate you, to choose it, to be honest, to support, we want to support you, but like, do we want you to do that work amongst yourselves. If black people could have solved racism throughout, you know, through our words and our protest, you know, and our anger and our thoughts, we would have already done it because we’d been doing it for 500 years.
Since that is not the case, it is very clear to me that like, this conversation needs to happen amongst white people. White people to talk to other white people about why they hate black people or why anti-blackness exists, or why racism exists. And that conversation needs to happen there and white people need to fight with other white people about this conversation.
You know, if you got to fight with your granddad at Thanksgiving dinner about how racist he is, then fight with your grandad about it. Don’t expect me to fight your granddad for you. Like, if white people aren’t willing to stand up and be true and honest and, and, and fight anti-racism and, and fight racism and anti-blackness, they, who else will? Our country is majority white.
Everything is majority white in our country. So, you know, who else would do it if they won’t? And so don’t rely upon your black staff. Also, your black staff is tired. Like I just got an email from someone saying like, here are like, it’s this long black thread, like chain. And they basically say like, they create a whole website for them.
“Here’s some pre-canned answers for all your white friends, that message you when they say that. And I was like, “Oh, I’ve gotten all of these texts. I’ve gotten all these emails. I’ve gotten all of these messages,” and it’s really fascinating, it’s like, white people coming to us for either validation or the say, like I hit, you know, or something.
And it’s like, I’m exhausted. Like after the Freddie, the Floyd, George Floyd, uprisings, the amount of messages I was getting daily from white coworkers, white friends I haven’t talked to in ages, and white people actually like, like these are white people that I actually, I consider them friends or they’re good coworkers.
Like, I don’t hate these people, they’re great people. But to say it’s not mentally and emotionally exhausting to constantly be getting these questions of like, “I’m your white friend and I want to process this promise with you right now.” It’s like, I’m exhausted of processing. You know, I’ve been processing trauma, I’m 40 years old, I’m processing this trauma for 40 years. I’m exhausted right now. You know, why don’t you go and process that with other white people. And then come back to me with your solutions on how you decided to fight anti-blackness, and then I can tell you how I feel about that, but don’t want to process the court with me.
Lisa Buffo: Yeah. That’s fair. And I, appreciate you taking the time Darius today and sharing all this insight. well, before we go, is there anything, anything else you want to mention or say, or, you know, kind of state before we wrap up?
Darius Kemp: You know, I think I’ve, I hope, I hope this has been a great interview. I have been, I just speak off…you know, I’m, I’m kind of a long talker and kind of long winded here, so excuse me. But I will end with saying one of my, I don’t, I don’t have the quote exactly memorized, but one of my favorite authors is James Baldwin, the famous black author, and Civil Rights leader and everything else. And he was also openly queer throughout the 40, 50, 60 seventies, eighties, when he was alive.
And so, you know, I’m a big fan of black queer men, and especially historical black queer men. And so, he, there’s a movie actually, based on this quote, it’s I Am Not Your Negro. It’s available on, I believe Amazon and other things right now. And, he says, you know, “I’m not a n***** and, American needs to figure out why it needs a n*****.”
“Why does it need…why? Because I’m a man.” He would say, “I’m a man, and if America needs a n*****, you need to realize and have this internal conversation about why you think you need a n*****, cause I’m not a n*****. So why do you think you need one?” And for cannabis and how I ingrain that into cannabis is like, we need to figure out how and why we need one in cannabis because in cannabis, especially in California, where many licenses. Let’s talk about LA licensing, right? Licenses and other things are locked into social equity. They’re locked into, Oh, well, we don’t give out these licenses, like social equity folks, black and Brown folks, people affected by the war on drugs. Get access to these licenses first because the governments are trying to at least create a system where we economically enfranchise people affected by the War on Drugs.
And so I’ve seen in a cannabis space, literally black people being used for their licenses. Being left penniless, nothing like big companies come in, use their licenses and leave them with debt, leave the black people with debt, or leave them with nothing. Give them like a couple thousand dollars a month while they’re making a couple million dollars a year.
So, to that point, I think that what I want to end on here is that we, as the cannabis industry need to figure out why we need black people, especially in social media spaces, state start to open up and the social equity becomes more and more the, the, the main concern for cannabis. How do we address anti-blackness and the industry’s need for blackness to get licenses, to make money off of their backs? But then also disenfranchised and not incorporate blackness into the companies, into the corporations, into their work, not being authentic.
So once again, find a way to be authentic. So you can figure out how to address this real core question and like, look at your own company. Does your company use licenses obtained from black and Brown people are people affected by the war on drugs? How much are those people getting paid? What are you doing to help them out further engaged with these folks?
You need to figure out why we need black people in this industry, and then figure out how we can enfranchise. Them should not be needed and used, but how they can be their own individual people and companies managing their own, businesses.
Lisa Buffo: That’s amazing. Well, thank you so much, Darius. I really appreciate you taking the time.and, and sitting with me today, I’m so grateful. is there any contact information or ways people can find you that you would want to share?
Darius Kemp: [Yeah, I am. I am available on the Instagram @ darius415. I believe it is. You can, that’s Dar or U S four one five on the IG. and then, yeah, justinkind.com, please check out my website.
I might, I, I need to reboot it. So take some time. and yeah, if you want to reach out to me, I’m at Eaze. So go to our website and just send an email saying, Hey, I want to talk to this Darius guy to our [email protected] and they know how to get in touch with me as well. So that’s [email protected]
Lisa Buffo: And Eaze is spelled E a z e.
Darius Kemp: E a z e. Yeah, that’s right, cause you know, technology, you know, can’t, can’t spell anything with, you got to put a three, turn the E into a three or something. You don’t got to do that.
Lisa Buffo: Awesome. Well, Darius, thank you so much. I’m so grateful for your time today.
Darius Kemp: Yeah. Thank you for having me, Lisa, and I hope all the cannabis marketeers out there go out and be authentic and, and do great work.
Lisa Buffo: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you.
Darius Kemp: Thanks Lisa. Bye.
Meet Your Host
LISA BUFFO, Founder and CEO of Cannabis Marketing Association
Lisa Buffo is an award-winning entrepreneur and marketer with a passion for launching companies with experience in both the cannabis and technology industries. Lisa is the Founder & CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association, a membership based organization focused on education and best practices for industry marketers with the vision of rebranding cannabis at the national level. She was named one of 2019’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars in Cannabis by Marijuana Venture Magazine in 2019 and named “The Marketing Guru” by Women & Weed magazine and is a featured speaker and media source in publications like Forbes, The Guardian, and VICE. You can find her on Instagram @libuff and Twitter @libuff21.
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