9 Aug 2023

Breaking Stigmas:

A Black Father’s Experience in the Psychedelic Movement

Breaking Stigmas:

A Black Father’s Experience in the Psychedelic Movement

By Kevin Cranford, Jr. M.S.

MAPS Bulletin: Volume XXXIII Number 2 • 2023

Back in college, I remember while heading home on winter break, a friend and I drove to the local corner store for some rolling papers and snacks. It was nice to be back home. I felt adult, mature even. We talked about other friends from high school and caught up after a semester away from home. While chilling in the parking lot and in the moment with each other, we failed to notice the cop car that had blocked us in. I don’t remember the cops approaching, but I do remember the car door swinging open and getting pulled through my seatbelt. Thrown to the ground between the cars, my hands pinned behind my back, I felt the unforgiving asphalt against my body. Be polite, be respectful, say yes sir – bits of “The Talk” played in my head.

From under the car, I could see my friend’s sneakers shuffling to the curb, followed by the black boots of the officer. “Stay on the ground and don’t move,” I heard as my legs were kicked apart. My friend remained upright seated on the curb. It’s been decades since that night, but it stays with me. It’s crazy how violent the collision of so many seemingly invisible things can be. At that moment, the convergence of so many systems, structures, and ideologies, none of which I, or anyone who looks like me, had a hand in creating, led to me being knocked to the ground with broken bits of asphalt digging into my fresh shoes.

​​The incident that occurred nearly two decades ago still resonates with me, as the memories and thoughts of that afternoon remain vivid. The anger and frustration I felt at the time drove me towards educating myself about the drug war and ultimately led me to become a cannabis activist. My primary motivation was to prevent others from experiencing the victimization I had suffered. However, my involvement in activism had to be put on hold when my first son, Kevin III, was born, and I embarked on my journey as a father. I recall feeling nervous and excited when I first held him in the hospital room, as I saw him as a blank canvas on which I could paint my wildest aspirations for the future.

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When Kevin III was born in 2016, the cannabis landscape was just beginning to take shape, with more and more states legalizing its use. I felt optimistic about raising a young Black boy in a post-prohibition America. However, as Kevin grew like a weed over the years, I realized that violence against Black boys and men was also on the rise and was being captured on video for the world to see. The deaths of Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elijah McClain were just some of the tragic incidents that underscored the deep-seated racism that still plagues our society.

Despite the progress made in cannabis policy, I can’t shake the nervousness of raising a young Black boy in America. The reality of the situation has tempered my optimism, and I worry about how he will be perceived by a country still struggling to overcome its prejudices. In 2021, my wife and I welcomed our second son, Noah, into the world, bringing new life to our growing family. Like Kevin, Noah is a marker on the timeline of the end of prohibition, but his world is already different from his brother’s. Born during a psychedelic renaissance, Noah is growing up in a world where previously taboo substances are being researched for mental health disorders and decriminalized at the state and local levels.

Because of shifts in drug policy and the waning War on Drugs, my sons will hopefully never experience what I did that winter afternoon. Still, I’ve realized that destigmatization changes even slower than policy. As a Black man now working at a psychedelic nonprofit organization, I recognize the daily tension I navigate and push through – the perfectionism and feeling like my one voice stands to represent the whole of a diverse community. BIPOC folks are rarely at the table, and when we are, there is an unspoken belief that it’s our one shot, so don’t mess it up. Coupled with those feelings is my awareness that my very physicality and identity were once used to demonize and police this industry. Yet, now I sit here with my very presence as an affront to those same racist policies. It’s heavy.

I showed up to this work as an activist wet behind the ears a decade ago ready to challenge cannabis policies after seeing their disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities. My orientation to this work and the reason why it has evolved with the birth of my boys. In these last several years, more states have legalized cannabis for adult use, and cities and states are beginning to explore more progressive psychedelic policies. As these new policies are being constructed undergirding the society my children will inherit, I lean into this work with renewed attention.

We are currently in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance. Research and public interest in MDMA, psilocybin, and other psychedelic substances are at an all-time high. Social stigmas are starting to break in society as more people discuss psychedelics and the healing they may produce for mental health conditions. Once psychedelic therapies are out of the clinical trial phase, and if approved, they can begin treating the trauma their prohibition caused, including the historical racial traumas many in the BIPOC community face. I’m hopeful my work today will be leveraged tomorrow by my children and the generations to follow.

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My work allows me to challenge preconceived notions of being a psychonaut, especially a Black one with kids. As I grow in this work, I hope to be an example to those activists who are younger than me and be viewed in the same way I’ve looked at my mentors in this space.

As a Black man, father, and activist in the cannabis and psychedelic industry, I know a long and uncertain road that lies ahead. I remain hesitant in believing that the progress in the psychedelic ecosystem will be a panacea for all that ails communities of color. Still, I think that psychedelic policy progression will help. The legacies of racism and oppression are deeply ingrained in our society, and it will take time and effort to dismantle them. But I am hopeful. I’m hopeful that MAPS will stay true to its value of Healing for All and that this healing will reach our most marginalized communities. I’m also optimistic that jobs and training in psychedelic therapies will come to those communities, opening up the business side of psychedelics.

I see a future where my sons can expand their consciousness with a legalized psychedelic landscape in ways I couldn’t under this prohibition reality. And I’m hopeful that my children and future generations will not face the same traumas and struggles I did.

As I integrate my thoughts, I’m reminded of the lessons fatherhood has taught me that can be said for my time as a psychonaut, cannabis activist, and drug reform professional, and that’s to remain engaged and optimistic and always be open to surprises.

Kevin Cranford, Jr., M.S.

Kevin Cranford, Jr.  serves as a Communications Officer for MAPS. Kevin earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Morgan State University, the premier HBCU in Baltimore, Maryland. After an early career spent working in television at ESPN and ID Discovery, Kevin comes to MAPS after a decade in the legal services field, traveling the country’s courtrooms as a trial presentation consultant.

But drug policy has always been his passion. While in living in Maryland Kevin spent years as a cannabis advocate and organizer in the DMV area, working with Maryland NORML, the National Cannabis Festival, and the Minority Cannabis Business Association. Now he is excited to bring his passion for communications and drug policy to MAPS!

Outside of his professional life, Kevin enjoys hiking and ultimate frisbee, music, and his United Statues of America account. He lives in the suburbs of Connecticut with his wife Shardae, and two sons Kevin and Noah.