Diversity Matters & Life After Sports: Al Harrington

As a part of our upcoming Diversity Education Discussions with Hall of Flowers, we’re going to be highlighting some words from our speakers to keep you satiated until January 18th.

Al Harrington of Viola Inc.

What led you to launch your brand?

AH: One of the biggest inspirations in starting this brand was the intimate experience of witnessing cannabis’ healing power on my grandmother when she was suffering a great deal from a variety of health issues. While cannabis was something she was avidly against for a very long time, it ended up being the leading solution. The possibility of spreading this kind of experience to other people struggling with physical concerns and to educate the general public on how cannabis can actually be helpful is important to me.

Why is diversity and inclusion across the cannabis industry important to you?

AH: Diversity means seeing more than just a handful of successful people who look like me. The ability to provide black and other minority communities with the same opportunities afforded to others is at the forefront of my mission in the industry. Communities of color have always been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs and the repercussions of that are still felt today. Our mission is to undo the systematic oppressions our communities face through education, expungement programs, providing re-entry tools for previously incarcerated, and more. Currently, less than one in five cannabis businesses nationwide are minority-owned. Findings from in 2017 showed about 17% of cannabis executives were minorities. The industry needs to have more candid conversations about the barriers that are blocking communities of color out when decisions are being made in hiring, funding and more. It is no secret that a disproportionate amount of minorities face challenges within the industry that white counterparts do not. The industry needs to make it a priority to hire more minorities and make sure that is across all sections of the company including leadership positions.

How is cannabis connected to your life?

AH: Cannabis is connected to my life in so many different ways. Whether that’s through my Grandma, my company Viola, personal use for things such as pain management or advocacy for social equity within the cannabis space – I am connected to it in almost every avenue of life. I am a huge proponent for cannabis use and want to share that with others and change the misconstrued idea society has around cannabis.

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?

AH: My motivation for creating Viola was to create a company that supports black ownership and representation within the cannabis space while supporting black and brown minorities that have been affected by the war on drugs. I’ve also seen time and time again from as early as I can remember, people of color experiencing deep injustices as a result of cannabis profiling and over-policing. I felt a responsibility as I entered the space to highlight the issues that black and brown communities face while creating change at the forefront of the industry. Through some of our key initiatives, we hope to undo a lot of the damage done within these communities.

With this discussion being on MLK Day 2021, discuss the importance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s impact in your life OR share your favorite MLK quote.

AH: MLK has made a major impact on my life. All of the work he put in has made it possible for me to have a platform and to be able to actually make changes in the industry. Back in the day, there was a time when activists were more popular than athletes. Martin Luther King, Jr’s work was so strong and so prevalent. And now in the present day, we see a role reversal. A lot of our advocates don’t have the same platform. But the people that do are the celebrities, the athletes. That’s why it’s so important for key figures in the public eye to use their voice on these issues … and why I am such an advocate about using my own platform for others. It’s all about sacrifice, right? As athletes, we’re blessed to make millions of dollars because someone sacrificed their life for this opportunity. So it’s very important for athletes to step up, and MLK really created that platform and gave us the ability to be able to speak out and let our voices be heard.