The number of Black women in cannabis is continuing to grow by the day. However, it is still pretty low compared to our Caucasian counterparts. That being said, when some sistah’s are doing big cannabis events down at the Black music mecca called Essence Festival, you can’t help but take note. I liked the vibe and pure energy of Shellise “Sistah” Rogers and TiYanna Long, the ladies behind Synergy Sesh, a networking Meet-Up designed to spotlight diversity in the cannabis sector. Both Rogers and Long are highly educated women whose corporate skills transfer lucratively into this evolving industry. Each event garners increasing admiration.
How did Synergy Sesh get started and what are your individual backgrounds?
TIYANNA LONG: I’m originally from Oakland, California, and my background is finance technology and corporate philanthropy. Shellise and I met last year at a Cannabis Cultural Association event, the first Latinx event in New Jersey. It’s been history ever since. I had been working in the industry for at least a year volunteering and meeting anyone I could. Being from California, I’ve been around cannabis my entire life, and the industry on the West Coast was very different from the East Coast in 2016. Both of us coming from corporate America realized that there was something missing – the development of the entrepreneur. We took it upon ourselves to go into the mental side of entrepreneurship. After you get funding for your business, then what? How do you sustain your personal and business finances if you’re not mentally prepared to handle it? It’s always glamorized to be an entrepreneur in the cannabis space, like when you transition your career, you will make a ton of money, and that’s just not the case. It could be five years before you start to see a profit, and the struggles that entrepreneurs of color face are even tougher.
Shellise and I came together because we noticed we had a lot of synergy during sessions, so we created Synergy Sesh from that and this was the route we wanted to go. [We’re] two Black women from completely different spaces working together to create real Black Girl Magic. I also have Medisi Ventures, a consulting firm for social impact enterprises focused on the sustainable development of the emerging cannabis industry.
SHELLISE ROGERS: Sistah Rogers got started when I got serious about my spiritual journey, and coming out of the revolution that happened to me. My family is from the Caribbean, and that upbringing affects the way that I look at herbs and plants. My dad was an herbalist, so growing up utilizing plants as medicine is not something new to me. I went to St. John’s University for my undergrad, and I have an accounting background, but I was always volunteering. I was also really involved in the community for social justice issues, homelessness, [and] women’s rights. These are the values that have followed me through life.
Sistah Rogers is a faith-based social enterprise about cultural conscious consumption. This plant is another living thing that has its own energy that we need to be mindful of. I realized I could get people to change their minds and cannabis makes them more open. I would like to go to school now for psychology so that I can have my own accreditation of how to talk to people about consuming more mindfully, setting intentions before consumption even for the business development side of things. I also am a youth pastor and spend a lot of time speaking at churches. It’s a way to connect with people [from] different faith communities when they’ve had their own experience with cannabis. Being a millennial, I can bridge the gap between the congregation and the cannabis consumers they are trying to reach.
Your first Synergy Sesh was at Essence Festival July 2018. Why did you choose that location and what was the response?
TIYANNA LONG: For us, Essence is like a Black mecca and we wanted to make sure that people that looked like us were involved in the conversation. Synergy Sesh launched a “Keep Your Network Popping” event during that weekend. We brought together entrepreneurs who are actively working in the space to discuss how and why they do what they do. This gives attendees a true look inside at the struggle that you may not see on Instagram. It was our first time at Essence Festival and hosting an event as well. We were able to plan it remotely from New York and for it to turn out so well really excited us. We had a diverse panel of cannabis professionals, and we tried to keep it a small crowd for a more intimate dialogue. We have been to cannabis events where we get a lot of information [but] leave still not knowing what to do so we give consultations at Synergy Sesh events as well. Since Essence, we have been to Washington, D.C. [for] the Congressional Black Caucus, and then this one in California. Those pilots helped us plan to make them even better for 2019.
What can we expect from you in 2019?
TIYANNA LONG: We will have more “Keep Your Network Popping” intimate professional development workshops in summer 2019. We’re launching e-courses for entrepreneurs as well as a retreat – three days of intense focus on your business with different facilitators who will help you make changes you can immediately apply. You will see more of the Consumption Chronicles, which is the documentary series that I produce as well.
SHELLISE ROGERS: You will see more meaningful topics like Financial Literacy, especially around the term “generational wealth.” It will be showing people how to get to where they need to go, and building community around that so they aren’t doing it alone. Collaboration is key, and there is a full community out there that looks like us.
We want to make sure we continue that for the needs of the people, and we’re stronger together. Clergy connection is a focus as well to connect interfaith, because a lot of them had the same questions and concerns around cannabis, so we’re planning a cannabis conference for them next year.
Where can people find you?
TIYANNA LONG: firstname.lastname@example.org and all things social media – Synergy Sesh.