Stomping the pavement nationally, fighting for adult use legalization, and changing perceptions through disruptive marketing practices, the Philadelphia-based brand Black Dragon Breakfast Club is on a mission and utilizing the power of community outreach, engagement, and advocacy.
Founder Tsehaitu Abye, MBA, has had an unwavering commitment to redefining the narrative surrounding cannabis. Through the strategic creation of compelling multimedia content, immersive activations, and an extensive portfolio of both in-person and digital events like Black Cannabis Week, Tsehaitu has consistently challenged the prevailing stereotypes associated with cannabis.
Black Dragon Breakfast Club At Black Cannabis Week: An Interview With Founder Tsehaitu Abye
I caught up with Tsehaitu during Black Cannabis Week and wanted to learn more about what Black Dragon Breakfast Club has going on, particularly their adult use survey and how they are using digital organizing, technology, and AI in the fight for legalization.
VERONICA CASTILLO: Let's talk Pennsylvania specifically. In your opinion, what is Pennsylvania doing right as it relates to cannabis legalization, and what are they doing wrong?
TSEHAITU ABYE: Pennsylvania, or the folks at the table, should make sure they bring everyone to the table as they develop legislation and not just the money guys and bureaucratic place holders. We tend to sell out our state to the highest bidder; maybe for once we won’t pimp our state.
Previously, you mentioned Adult Use Legislation and data organizing being critical to the success of the movement. How or why is this the case?
Every election we need to vote, update our voter registration, and register new applicants. R&D is research and development which requires data. AI is based on data. Every moment we experience is a data point for understanding and perception. Engineering, science, medicine, finance all require data. More importantly, data is digital and digital organizing is critical to our cannabis movement; it is critical to every moment. Both physical organizing and digital organizing are important. Think about our digital content creators and all the data they help move. Growth in the cannabis industry requires data collection, analysis, and synthesizing.
You’ve also mentioned Pennsylvania being a swing state because of the BIPOC power. Can you elaborate on this?
Every election cycle, millions of dollars are pumped in Pennsylvania, and more importantly Philadelphia. Funders flood the state with money for advertisements and mobilization because the final votes always come down to PA.
What I’ve seen through my organizing work is that the Black vote in Pennsylvania is POWERFUL; we can’t let politicians and monopolies do with it as they choose. We must take back our power strategically.
PA has a history of being important in presidential elections; look at the last 20 to 25 presidents. Think about it, the U.S. Constitution was written in Pennsylvania (the commonwealth). In 2016, Trump won by .7 percent similar to Michigan and Wisconsin and we continue to see money being pumped into those towns by both Dems and Republicans. Why? Because of the BLACK and Brown vote.
And to be quite honest, I don't know what’s going to happen in 2024, but I do know cannabis should be a topic of discussion and influence residents' vote.
Please explain what Self-Guided Cannabis Civics Activation means.
Yes, it is exactly as it sounds: An interactive activation intended to engage and educate cannabis users and supporters about the current #Adultuse legislation proposed in PA, and to request a CTA or Call to Action: a common step in issues based and political organizing often seen done in social justice movements.
The goal of the action is to collect as many public comments about why PA residents and non residents support adult use. This is a digital and IRL, “in real life,” activation.
Here’s how to “activate”:
- Grab a pen and comment card
- Tell us HOW why you support adult-use
- Scan the QR code and sit down
- Take the online survey to submit your official comment
Official Link: Take The BDBC Adult Use Survey
How does one build leadership within their community of cannabis supporters?
Good old grassroots organizing, rooted in community care and not the white nonprofit industrial complex. Add some personal accountability, digital organizing, the creative economy, self-care, education and there you have it. True leadership development.
Organizations and politicians often shy away from authentic leadership building because then you have well-informed and mobilized leaders looking to lead. It’s always easier to have one leader and a bunch of followers. It is much harder to facilitate a group of leaders into progress.
Just think of the complexities of the democratic process versus the “simplicity” of a dictatorship. But anyway, true organizing with accountability is the way to go. We are all humans at the end of the day, hopefully striving to be our “highest/ greatest” self.
How can writers/media/community amplify Black voices?
More interviews, more narrative storytelling campaigns that don’t just co-opt Black stories but authentically amplify. Not tokenism but deep and intentional stories. Less listening to the loudest one in the room and more paying attention to the organizers. Connect the dots; every industry is suffering right now because capitalism does not spare anyone. We need to organize every industry and invest in an educated and informed workforce and consumer base.
What's the relationship between Black Cannabis Week organizers the Diasporic Alliance for Cannabis Opportunities (DACO) and the Black Dragon Breakfast Club?
We’ve known DACO and [founder] Cherron [Perry-Thomas] for many years now; matter of fact, we hosted one of the first DACO after-parties several years ago. I have deep roots in Philadelphia, so when I came back after living in Hawaii and on a cannabis farm in Northern California, it was just a matter of aligning with the elders who were on my wave.
There are a lot of elders who’ve been doing the work of wellness, alternative spirituality, and the preservation of our Black community through non-mainstream methods rooted in indigenous and African practices. It’s great to see the intergenerational connections happening between DACO and BDBC. From the arts to wellness to “Pan-African” pride, we’re building safe spaces.
In August, there was an announcement posted that Black Dragons Breakfast Club would be on break in 2024, but still working actively behind the scenes. Can you provide insight into the reason for the break and what’s being worked on behind the scenes?
Yes, I had to take a break from BDBC, I was doing too much and not pouring back into my cup. I couldn’t save for my future and try to build BDBC, but I did for 5 years. When I first started BDBC, I had already spent two years working for free at a local Philly startup for creative entrepreneurs and proceeded to dive headfirst into BDBC.
I was running through money and navigating a new world of business ownership. After graduating from Lincoln University’s first MBA program, I was passionate about starting my own brand and business. Ironically, I chose the hardest industry to build in: the cannabis industry.
I’ve made many mistakes and struggled to maintain a digital presence even after being shadowbanned by META in 2020, after reaching 10,000 followers. We’ve hosted countless events virtually and in person, in addition to organizing hundreds of dragons locally and internationally. Our digital platform hasn’t grown much since 2020, but we’ve continued to organize our community and promote conscious consumption.
On a personal note, during my journey organizing Philadelphia’s cannabis community, I discovered my estranged father had been deported for cannabis cultivation. I knew he was locked up and deported but never knew why. One day during a call, he shared the reason for his incarceration and subsequent deportation. I was shocked to find this out because it was a full circle.
We both have an appreciation for cannabis because of the way it helps us mentally, physically, and emotionally. But the real tea is: the struggle of building a brand in this space, while healing from the trauma of life, the War on Drugs, and the immense shame of what all of this brings. In addition, I was dealing with housing insecurity, finding a secure job that would pay me what I am worth, and not use me as a Black token.
Fast forward, I’ve landed a great role as State Director for a nonprofit advocating for African immigrants (an organization I wish existed when my dad arrived to the U.S. after being a refugee) where I get to fuse my civic engagement, labor organizing, creative passions, personal commitments and my love for Philadelphia. I’ve bought my first house, reopened BDBC with more confidence, and vulnerability. I ask for help and have a team that has stuck by my side since we met during the pandemic.
We’re looking forward to the upcoming elections, building more power in Philadelphia and the greater state, re-releasing our Cannabis Affirmation cards, bringing on a few interns, and supporting the advocacy efforts that bring a socially equitable adult use bill to PA and to all states with Black folk.
I just hope more folks get the confidence and appetite to organize and build power for self and their chosen community. Our voice matters.
For more about Black Dragon Breakfast Club, visit shopblackdragons.com.
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Veronica Castillo is the Traveling Cannabis Writer from Miami, with a pre-cannabis and psychedelics background in insurance and human resources. Currently, she is a resident of the road covering cannabis, psychedelics, and plant-based lifestyles all over the U.S and soon abroad. Follow her journey on IG at @vee_travelingvegcannawriter and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vee-traveling-veg-canna-writer/
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Featured image: Black Dragon Breakfast Club at Black Cannabis Week 2023: Founder Tsehaitu Abye (right) and Creative Content Curator Dashayna "Dash" Brown (left) (C) Black Dragon Breakfast Club