The drug war, in reality, is nothing more than a war against the impoverished and the disenfranchised in the United States. Even as we’ve begun to break from the antiquated laws surrounding cannabis, people of color are still disproportionately affected. Not just in terms of being discriminated against or arrested, but in the realm of opportunities as well. Ebele Ifedigbo, Lanese Martin and Biseat Horning, co-founders of The Hood Incubator, have made it their mission to create equal opportunities for those most negatively affected by the prohibition of cannabis. They are working to change the persistent race and class disparities inherent to cannabis prohibition, and to provide the disenfranchised with the resources needed to succeed in the budding cannabis industry.
Lanese Martin, although fairly soft spoken when you first meet her, is a woman who knows her own mind and holds little back. She was “raised by old people from the south,” as she puts it. Between 1816 and 1970, over six million African Americans fled southern states in hope of a better life. This diaspora deeply molded people for generations, and in turn helped mold Lanese who grew up highly aware of the race riots that occurred everywhere from Los Angeles to New York in the 1990s.
Although she’s always been driven to economically uplift the black community, Lanese never thought she would be working in the cannabis world. After working in community organizing, she pretty ended up in cannabis “by accident,” she explained.
Lanese became a ward of NY state at a young age due to parental substance abuse, but they didn’t leave her behind. Lanese had “two very distinct families,” getting to visit with her biological family often, and had the driving support of both families invested in her success. She knew early on what was expected of her. Nothing less than a prestigious HBCU (Historically Black College or University) would be accepted. Although she’s always been driven to economically uplift the black community, Lanese never thought she would be working in the cannabis world. After working in community organizing, she pretty ended up in cannabis “by accident,” she explained.
While attaining her Master’s degree in Business Administration, Lanese began working with the non-profit Oakland Rising, a group that works to “erase the racial, economic, political, environmental and educational inequities” in the community. At Oakland Rising, Lanese began to blossom as a professional. She quickly discovered her natural organization skills, and helped to strengthen public interest in education. She worked steadfastly to mobilize and encourage voters to get involved. Lanese had become part of the community, and there were plenty of needs, but a lack of resources. After progressing from Office Manager to Field Director, she was able to connect with the people in her community and recognize who could benefit from the swiftly changing laws. Cannabis provided a new set of tools and opportunities.
“I watched cannabis becoming more legal, and figured I could teach people how to sell drugs well—and legally,” she said frankly. This became the perfect opportunity to use the legal pipelines, for a substance that was once a source of persecution, to help the community prosper.
Ebele Ifedigbo is a direct and bright personality whose character commands the room. Growing up on the East side of Buffalo, the middle child of a Nigerian immigrant father and American mother—who expected nothing less than the absolute best. Ebele’s parents described life’s endless possibilities—including their assertion that Ebele could one day be President—when Ebele was as young as three years old. “It was pretty ridiculous,” Ebele laughs, “I got two Cs in sixth grade, and there were consequences.”
Ebele’s middle class upbringing was not the norm in Buffalo. The east side of town is a place where more than half of all children grow up in poverty, and the graduation rate only recently rose above 50 percent. But these were more than statistics to Ebele; these were friends, family, neighbors. Ebele came to believe that the best way to help the community prosper would be through economics.
After graduating with an undergraduate degree from Columbia University, and before obtaining a Master of Business Administration at Yale, Ebele worked as a Fair Lending Field Fellow for the NAACP. Community education and economic development were essential after the Great Recession of the 2000s. Ebele was able to teach people about fair lending practices to avoid the predatory loans that bankrupt millions.
The Gender Identity Project at the NYC LGBT Community Center is another project Ebele holds close to heart. “You’re almost invisible,” Ebele told us, in regards to non-binary identification. The GIP is a safe space, a support system for people to come to talk about issues they all face and understand in such a binary world. The Brown Boi Project, an organization that helps give members a “framework and confidence” for understanding who they are, has also played a big role in Ebele’s life. In a world that is not always accepting of those who identify outside our polarized “male” and “female” gender roles, it’s important to have systems that both support and educate. “My life is a gender identity project,” Ebele jokes.
Lanese and Ebele’s individual family histories and rich cultural understanding drives their mission of excellence and advancement for people of color. An eclectic tapestry of personal and familial experiences make the deep-rooted racism in this country all too well understood. Even at Yale, Ebele’s alma matter, they only recently removed slavery defender John C. Calhoun’s name from their residential college. Racism is embedded in the very fabric of our country. From education to politics and business, we’ve seen the repercussions. It’s time for continued change, and this resourceful group will become a catalyst for positive growth and inclusivity in the cannabis industry.