America’s 1st Black Owned Cannabis Retailer Talks Optimism & Adversity
I’m no card player, but I will show up regularly to the game of life. And I’m not referring to the Milton Bradley pastime either. I’m talking about real life, the one that’s chock full of the good, the bad, and the “you’re kidding, right?” I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I state just how challenging living through a global pandemic has been for all of us. And while a huge chunk of the Bay Area’s population is well on their way to being fully vaccinated, we’re not out of the woods yet.
Keith Stephenson is picking up the pieces as he works tirelessly to restore his livelihood. The CEO and Founder of Oakland’s Purple Heart, the first Black-owned, licensed cannabis retailer in the United States is still recovering from two catastrophic burglaries to his business last Spring. You can help him get back on his feet right here.
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When I spoke with Keith on the phone a few weeks ago, I was impressed by his unwavering, positive attitude. “I AM phenomenal,” he declared when I asked him how he was doing. Rewind. Last year was pure fire for cannabis retailers, many making hand over fist in sales. Not so for Purple Heart. It was closed for business after being burglarized. Meanwhile, industry peers’ doors were wide open. And at the time, the likelihood of Purple Heart receiving any financial assistance from its insurer in a timely manner was the sad equivalent of sitting at a dinner table watching everyone else stuff their faces while you sat there hungry and salivating. So how does Keith stay motivated? “A lot of my communication is about projection,” he told me.
Keith Stephenson is a 52-years-young consummate professional and leader in the cannabis industry. He hails from Los Angeles. “I grew up in a city that was rich in culture,” Keith shared on my call with him. A lucrative job offer brought him to the East Bay in 1989 where he worked as an Aviation Maintenance Technician for 15 years. The healing benefits cannabis offered for his arthritis birthed an organic interest to change careers. Keith does however, attribute understanding how to operate a business in a compliant industry to working for a major airline. Shortly thereafter, he began working at the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Co-Op, the first dispensary in Oakland.
In 2006, Purple Heart Patient Center was born. The name Purple Heart pays homage to the city of Oakland being the “heart” of the iconic cannabis strain “Grand Daddy Purple” otherwise known as GDP. “The name ‘Patient Center’ came about because the city wanted the dispensaries to convey publicly, a more medical approach. We are no longer dispensaries in California. We are called ‘cannabis retailers’. We dropped the ‘patient center’ from our name and only use Purple Heart,” Keith explained to me via email. Keith is also one of 22 Cannabis Advisory Commissioners for the state of California.
“I came into this industry to provide opportunities for others. It was important for me to always make the right decision because if I didn’t, it would impact other operators that look like me”, he explained. Purple Heart’s grand re-opening is slated for this Summer. Its ethnically diverse and knowledgeable staff are gearing up to welcome back a cosmopolitan clientele comprised of locals, nearby and international travelers, soccer moms, vapor pen afficionados, and lovers of edibles. “It’s important for everyone to have an extension of themselves. It’s about having an experience,” Keith pointed out.
And this is a highly anticipated experience that awaits the general public. As a result, Keith knew something needed to be done to move forward even if Purple Heart’s insurer wasn’t. Laws involving cannabis and banking prohibit fundraising efforts for cannabis businesses. Yet once again, Keith pivots with aplomb while responding in real time. “Help me and I can get the work done. I know how to reach my people,” Keith admitted in true, forward thinking fashion.
Keith Stephenson Matters. I invite you to step up, act now, and help a Brother out. The world is watching. To make a donation, please visit Keith Stephenson’s GoFundMe.