Tsehaitu Abye Is Planting Seeds for Philly’s Weed Scene
With her Black Dragon Breakfast Club, the entrepreneur-activist hopes to shape a more inclusive and women-friendly industry.
Tsehaitu Abye was destined to be a cannabis community leader. Abye’s father, it turns out, has roots in the cannabis field as a cultivator, which she only learned about after she began building her Philadelphia organization, Black Dragon Breakfast Club. The club’s main purpose is helping BIPOC and women reclaim their agency within the hemp and cannabis industry. Put another way: Abye is growing a community.
It seems cultivation runs in the family.
With experiences living on a cannabis farm and organizing labor unions—not to mention the familial coincidence—Abye’s background fueled her path as an entrepreneur and activist.
The born-and-raised Philadelphian attended high school and college in Hawaii, where she worked on the state’s first organizing campaign in 50 years, helping get a labor union together for all the hospitality workers at the airports. She returned to Philadelphia to get her Masters of Business Administration, just as Western states were passing recreational cannabis laws. Then it occurred to Abye: the union of business and advocacy in the legal cannabis space might be an ideal fit for her.
In January, Abye launched the Flower Puff Crew cannabis wellness series with Black-owned businesses and practitioners to address the inequities in the health and wellness space. She’s even branching out into marketing and creative services.
Today, Abye facilitates community building events, like Rise and Grinds, and out-of-state partnerships, like an upcoming Puff Pass Play event on Juneteenth in Oakland, California celebrating the cannabis-friendly, Black nerd and gamer scene.
We caught up with the Mother of Black Dragons herself to learn more about how this community burgeoned with Abye at the helm.
Thrillist: When did your relationship with cannabis begin?
Tsehaitu Abye: When I graduated college, I ended up living in California on a cannabis farm through the guy I was dating at the time. I got to see that life, learn how the plant grows. I was saving up money while I was there, and after two years, I went to Ethiopia to spend time with my father. I hadn’t really known him at all, hadn’t seen him in 20-something years, and it wasn’t that trip, but I’d later learn that my father actually grew cannabis for much of his life.
How did that gem stay under wraps?
It didn’t come up when I visited him; I didn’t learn that over the next five years that we stayed in touch—I learned it during the pandemic, because we were talking every day at the beginning. At one point when I was sharing my day with him, he goes, “You know I actually got deported for cannabis, right? That’s why I was in prison and you got those letters; that’s what I was up to in Hawaii, while I was teaching there.” He told me about this whole other part of my family history that I’d never known about. My mom was very concerned about respectability, and I think she just considered cannabis to be part of the criminal side of things that she didn’t want us to associate with.
Even though, by my math, she fell in love with your dad while he was growing weed in Hawaii?
Yes, she did, haha. It’s ridiculous. For me, cannabis is connected to health and mental health, and through my newfound awareness of cannabis, I’ve been able to experience a lot of emotional growth. This shift in my relationship with cannabis allowed for a shift in my relationship with my father, so this whole journey is a very personal one for me.
How did Black Dragon Breakfast Club get going?
I went from West Coast vibes, pruning grapes while watering the greens, to the absolutely zero-weed scene in Philadelphia. I needed a community, but I also wanted to start building something for whenever cannabis would legalize. Coming from hospitality, I entered the culinary and creative scenes, where I met a woman who was a fellow cannabis lover and organizer. The more I talked about it, the more people I met with shared interests. After a certain point, I realized I already was building a business.
I spent two years [2016-2018] building the Black Dragon Breakfast Club community on social media and in person in Philadelphia’s creative community through a monthly daytime Rise and Grind event. Initially there was a co-founder, but she has since left to start her own project. Those 10 am meetups inspired the name: We’re Black; we’re dragons [see definition on website]; and we’ve always wanted to be a safe community network for Black Dragons seeking creative spaces to explore their wellness and grow their business.
What was the move from there?
I did a BDBC podcast for a while, but the need for financial stability became clearer. I may come from a nonprofit background, but all that grassroots outreach entails a ton of marketing and sales skills. Landing in the creative community gave me connections to talent, so we’ve transitioned into a marketing/creative agency for those who have cannabis or hemp brands, are bringing an event to our community, and those who just need support and can’t afford a major agency. I have team members that want to progress their careers, so we’re a great fit for brands that need more flexibility but appreciate what a difference great content can make.
There is a lot I want to do. But when I really think it all through, at the root of everything I want to do—if I don’t change the way people look at cannabis, I can’t do any of it. So I’m going to do my best to impact the perception of cannabis in everything I do, and marketing is the way to do that.
What is the Philadelphia weed scene like right now?
We have medical, and we’re hoping in the next two years recreational will hit the ballot. People are definitely moving like that’ll happen. Philly StartUp Leaders hosted a cannabis business accelerator program that I participated in, and it felt very legitimizing to see that entrepreneurship taken seriously. I’m also the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union, and they’re in support of cannabis. Cannabis Noire, Stay Lifted, Philadelphia Cannabis Association—we’re all doing things to help set the stage for cannabis to be a supportive contribution to the city.
What do you hope for the rollout of that inevitability?
I hope it helps to heal the city. Right now, Black people continue to get targeted for possessing cannabis, while medical dispensaries operate down the street. This state is rich in so many ways, and yet our public education system is so bad that it’s the setting of Abbott Elementary. There’s so much that could be done. I hope we can get more visibility for Philadephia and for PA—lawmakers need to know the people want to vote on legalizing cannabis. I’m going to keep creating experiences that change the perception of cannabis, because that’s at the root of all of this.