By Harvey Leon and Gary Schwartz
Grizzly Bocourt is a New York native who has decided to challenge the status quo by taking action to advocate positive changes in society. As the founder of NYC-based nonprofit collective A Rebel Minded Society™ (ARMS), he breaks the boundaries of creative expression and community organization. From narrative and journalistic media to charitable events and educational panels, the ARMS team provides new avenues of representation and access for people of color, particularly those seeking knowledge about cannabis (medically, spiritually, and how to enter the industry). As the grandson of a two-timed breast cancer survivor, Grizzly has been intimately impacted by both the cultural stigma and health benefits of cannabis for much of his life. Honeysuckle was honored to delve into Bocourt’s journey and his programming’s ever-widening social impact.
Why are you a Rebel and what is A Rebel Minded Society?
As a Cuban/Dominican-American with African descent, I come from a family of warriors and soldiers who fought for freedom, peace, and survival. Being a Rebel is something I was born to do. My grandfather fought as a refugee soldier in the Dominican Republic, and my family faced the Cuban Revolution in Havana before coming to America. I inherited this path and recreated it into something that represents who I am and what I come from.
ARMS stemmed from the lack of resources and knowledge I experienced growing up. As a young rebel, I didn’t have many accessible outlets that allowed freedom of expression or creativity. Growing up in an environment with limited innovation and divergent thinking, it was easy to believe I was confined there. As a result, I spent most of my teenage years unaware of my potential or how to discover it. Instead, I got into mischief, as I didn’t have a dedicated space to spend my time outside of school, work, and home. It wasn’t until college that I had the opportunity to experience life beyond my immediate community—which made me realize that the key to growth and change lies in the awareness that there’s life beyond our comfort zones and familiar patterns, and then having the resources to act on that awareness. I created ARMS in the hopes that we can be that outlet for those seeking expression, and/or to support those who wish to break free from stigmas regarding their race, upbringings, and/or financial limitations. Often, outcasts are isolated and overshadowed because they embrace their individuality and seek to be more than what the status quo deems them to be. We’re here to help those still trying to figure out their path in life, who have the desire to pursue their passions but don’t know how to go about it.
How does ARMS create opportunities for people of color?
ARMS provides opportunities for people of color by helping them realize the potential they hold. Through the Rebel Minded Platoon™, our lifestyle support group, we recruit and work with people of color to pursue their passion and provide them with resources to guide them to it. With intimate engagement and creative development, we’re able to determine people’s needs while helping them build their skill set and grow their network. Our events also allow individuals to share stories and experiences, as well as provide artists with a stage to express their creativity in a space where people of color can feel free. My motivation is knowing our organization provides opportunities for those people.
Which part of ARMS community programming is most personal to you?
Our Annual Cannaware Society™ Breast Cancer Fundraiser, because my grandmother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. I’ve participated in the annual Breast Cancer Walk with my mother for over three years. It was an honor to have my grandmother in attendance to see the benefits from a plant she’d looked down upon for so many years, as medicine that provides aid and comfort for those who faced a similar path as hers. My work in the cannabis industry has allowed me to reshape my grandmother’s perspective on cannabis and is a constant motivation to fight against the stigma.
What are the biggest challenges African-Americans face in the industry and how does ARMS combat them?
In many disproportionate communities affected by the War on Drugs, people of color often face pushback due to past criminal records that relate to low-level cannabis charges. There’s also the lack of cannabis industry resources and access to enough financial capital, which makes it difficult to participate in the space. We educate people of color about the cannabis industry, and work with community leaders and legislators to help erase low-level cannabis conviction – as we increase the representation of marginalized and disempowered communities in the industry.
As New York heads toward full legalization, how can we work to repair the social injustices that have been done to people of color?
We must prepare the community by creating programs for the expungement of cannabis-related charges and transition from under-legal to legal markets. We must ensure the industry maintains a fair and sustainable workforce with equal job opportunities, and small business growth specifically in those marginalized communities.
I would like to see equity and investments for local businesses in disproportionate communities that suffer from the lack of resources. We also must find a way to improve the lives of all those who’ve been denied a fair chance because of a criminal record for something that is now legal. We cannot allow a substance that’s generating massive income for a select group of people continue to do so at the expense of many others.
In what ways do you believe greater representation in the media, like you’re doing with S.T.A.R.C.H., will benefit communities of color regarding cannabis?
Greater representation in the media would help show communities of color that cannabis doesn’t have to be associated with illegality, as it is a plant that can improve the medical, industrial, fashion, economic, and many more sectors of society. Shedding light on people of colors’ current status and movements in the cannabis industry (and the lack thereof) can create awareness, provide knowledge and inspire action for change. These benefits can help reshape communities of color’s perspectives on cannabis.
2019 sees ARMS developing content for their events calendar and upcoming season of S.T.A.R.C.H, a docuseries produced by Rebel Minded Media™. They are also looking a bigger facility to continue their mission on a larger scale. Check @thirdeyerebels on IG for updates on their Cannaware Society educational events and Breast Cancer Fundraisers, CannaMarket pop-up shop event series and El Jangueo series, a unique Latinx dining experience.