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Keith Stroup

50 Years NORML



In the cannabis community, Keith Stroup is a legend. He is the founder of the longest standing consumer advocacy group in the nation, NORML – the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2020, NORML celebrates 50 years as an organization. Stroup’s long hair is reminiscent of his past, present, and future. Now, at age 75, he has fought for the freedom of cannabis longer than many staking claims in this industry have been alive. GRAM sat down with Stroup to hear how it all started, the struggles of legalization, his personal journey with the plant, and where he thinks cannabis laws are headed in the future. 

In his third year of law school at Georgetown University, Stroup was offered a job serving on the National Commission for Product Safety. Two years went by and Stroup worked alongside Ralph Nader. He recalls, “It was at this time, I really began to learn about public interest law. In the process of working at the commission, I became enamored of the concept of using your law degree to make an impact on public policy.” 

Two people greatly shaped and influenced Keith Stroup in 1970. First Ralph Nader, “He didn’t smoke marijuana, all the young aids that worked for him, known as ‘Nader’s Raiders’ all consumed like I did. Ralph was a straight guy, but I was influenced by him using his law degree to directly affect public policy. Secondly, I read a book about that time by Ramsey Clark called “Crime in America.” He had recently retired as the US Attorney General, and I greatly admired him. He was here in Washington and he proposed legalizing marijuana and in time he became an antiwar activist. I admired Ramsey enormously from a distance,” Stroup explains. 

Stroup’s personal opinion of politics had become somewhat radicalized due to the antiwar movement during the Vietnam war. He tells us, “I don’t think I would have ever had any interest in starting a public interest group to support marijuana, but the antiwar movement showed me that marijuana was seen as a symbol of resistance—it was a way to say, not only do we not like your war in Vietnam, there are a lot of other things in current policy that we don’t agree with.” By now Stroup was 27 and past the drafting age. He knew he wanted to do something in public interest law. He began to wonder if he wanted to use his law degree to develop a program to legalize marijuana. He sat down with a few friends and began to create the concept for an organization that could accomplish such a task. In late 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was formed. 

Stroup began contacting mutual friends in an effort to contact Ramsey. Stroup tells us, “I was nervous I was making a damaging career decision by starting NORML. I finally had my opportunity to sit down with him, and he told me two things: ‘Do it, it’s important, someone has to do it so don’t hesitate, just move forward. Second, do it now when you are young so if it doesn’t work out, you can pick yourself up and start over, you can still have a fulfilled life.’ We ended up forming a tight relationship, and Ramsey served on the Board of Directors for NORML for the first decade we were in operation.”

In late 1970, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was formed.

One of the other ways Ramsey would influence Stroup was by the connections and introductions that he would receive. Stroup was asked if he had reached out to the Playboy Foundation to try and receive funding. Stroup exclaims, “Now I knew what Playboy was. Any young man my age hid that magazine under their mattress but I had never heard of this foundation.” Before Stroup reached out to the foundation, he was very nervous about taking money from them, so he asked Ramsey his opinion about using their funding. His answer helped Stroup make the right decision. “Ramsey explained to me that when he traveled around the country speaking and giving lectures, ‘almost never does someone ask me a question based on a book I have written, but almost every time someone asks questions to me because of the interview I did in Playboy magazine.’” Stroup knew what he needed to do.

Playboy ended up being the primary source of funding for NORML during the 1970’s. The first donation was the modest amount of five thousand dollars. Stroup could tell they really believed in what they were trying to do. The foundation told Stroup to take the money and show them what he could do. Within a year, the foundation committed to $100,000 a year and two full page ads for the organization to seek public support. 

NORML’s goal has always been the same, marijuana smokers should be treated fairly in all aspects of their lives. The 70’s were highly influenced by the marijuana commission established as a provision for the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. In the words of Stroup, “This was a terrible act and is to this day.” 

The latter half of the 70’s was spent traveling around the country providing expert testimony in decriminalization cases. “In 1973, Oregon was the first to adopt, and then by 1978, we had a total of 11 states that had decriminalized marijuana. At that point, we thought we were well on our way to nationwide decriminalization. We underestimated the reality that public opinion sometimes changes direction,” said Stroup. According to Gallup during their first poll in 1969, 88% of the public were opposed to marijuana policy. “I think we may have made it to 24% approval by 1977, and then it started to go down again just a point or two a year.”

Without question, I roll and smoke joints.

The 80’s brought the Reagans and the Just Say No program. Stroup tell us, “The focus became ‘what will happen to the children?’ And, that if it’s not good for children, then it is certainly not good for adults. Now if you think about that, it’s absurd. There are things that are appropriate for adults that are not appropriate for children.”

For 18 years, no laws were changed—not a single statewide victory. The next big moment for marijuana policy came in 1996. That victory was the medical use of cannabis in California. During those 18 years of inactivity, the public came out of the fog about the medical possibilities of marijuana. “Part of this was due to the AIDS epidemic. People were becoming more vocal that marijuana was helping them, then the focus became the medical side. Once California did this voter initiative, we were able to start picking up other states. The 90’s finally showed the uptick in support, and it has only continued,” said Stroup.

“All of our early progress was by voters. By the 2000’s, we began seeing a change legislatively as well. Citizens can draft what you feel to be a perfect bill. When you are dealing with the legislature you can create something unique. However, 26 states do not offer voter initiatives. Those states still do policy the old fashioned way.”

Things really started moving in 2012. Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Policies went into effect by January 1, 2014. Stroup said, “As we near the end of this decade, we now have enough public support that we are starting to pass laws through legislature in places like Vermont and Illinois, and we are close in New Jersey and New York. This decade is when we finally reached, 5 national polls where 65-68% of Americans now want to fully legalize cannabis. We now enjoy the support of 2 out of 3 Americans. 50% have smoked at some point in their lives, but only about 14% are actual users. We are winning this not because of the marijuana smokers but because we have won the hearts and minds of nonconsumers as well.”

In the fifty year history of the organization the ideals of NORML have not changed. 

Stroup tells us, “We were founded as a consumer lobby. What has changed is the consumer side of the issue. For example, making sure products are tested; we have always wanted to make sure the products were safe and secure to use. Years ago, before it was no longer a crime, the idea of testing was outlandish. Criminal prohibition needed to change first. Now, the need for social clubs is a thing. We also want to protect workers’ rights and child custody issues and DUI laws are now an issue too.” 

Stroup continues, “I believe that we are still working through reefer madness, the repercussions of 80 years of government propaganda and exaggerations. My contemporaries and I were taught it was an evil drug. We were taught the gateway concept. Although there is less and less of that every year, there will still be members of the legislature that continue to oppose initiatives, and their reasons are still antiquated. 

The re-education is necessary. It’s not that we have better arguments, we have better data, and we have now outlived our opponents.”

Stroup’s personal journey with cannabis is a budding fifty plus year relationship. As the aging process comes into play, his use of the plant continues day to day. In addition to the recreational desire to consume, it has also provided Stroup alleviation from an epileptic condition for many years. “I had my first seizure at the age of 65, one of the things that cannabis has always been known for is an anti-seizure medicine. So I called my friend and colleague, Dr. Greenspoon, at Harvard and said, ‘I can’t figure out what is happening.’ He said to me, ‘You would have been having seizures all of your life, but you’ve been taking the strongest anti-seizure medicine known to man.’”

This decade is when we finally reached, 5 national polls where 65-68% of Americans now want to fully legalize cannabis.

“As you get older you have more aches and pains, and anyone can imagine how comforting the casual use of marijuana can be if you are an older person. If you have a doctor trying to make you take 5 or 6 pills a day and all of the pills have different side effects. Then there is a plant that can help so much, without the side effects. But even more so, it can take an ordinary experience like walking the dog or playing a round of golf and turn it into an extraordinary experience. It’s no longer just ordinary. It enhances the quality of life and makes the free time of retirement far more enriching and rewarding than it would otherwise be.” 

Everyone has a preferred method of consumption and for Stroup it has always been joints. He tells us, “Without question, I roll and smoke joints, I don’t use a pipe, vape, or shatter, or anything like that, and that is my own personal preference. I love cleaning the marijuana by hand. I still roll torpedo shaped joints like my friend Willy Nelson. I like the feel of it on my lips. For me, flower is the way to use marijuana. For me, it is the healthiest way to just roll the joints. I will use topicals too. If I scratch my arm or something, that is what I reach for in my medicine cabinet.”

Stroup leaves us with his advice to future cannabis consumers, advocates, and activists,

“It is terribly important we understand our place in the universe and that we understand what this fight is all about. It is really only about personal freedom. All people who are active in this journey, keep that in mind. Prohibition has been ingrained in our lives; it’s not just a matter of do we consider marijuana consumers criminals. Now, it’s whether or not we treat them fairly in all aspects of their lives. Most individuals do not want the government deciding. Without question, the most fortunate thing I ever did was to get caught up in the antiwar movement and become radicalized so that my mind was open to the concept of trying to legalize marijuana.”

We are winning this
not because of the marijuana smokers but because we have won the hearts and minds of nonconsumers as well.


GRAM This Week is COMING!!!

We invite you to join us tomorrow for a sneak peek at our video series: GRAM this Week!



We invite you to join us tomorrow for a sneak peek at our video series:  GRAM this Week!

It’s our way of bringing you face to face with the incredible plant medicine activists, scientists, patients, and legends we write about in GRAM magazine.

The sneak peek  includes:

  • Get to know our GRAM journalists
  • Meet The Scientist with host Jordan Person
  • Award-winning cannabis scientist Jackie Salm is our guest.
  • Cooking with Chef Sebastian Carosi
    Chef shows us how he makes a cannabis tincture using the MagicalButter Machine. The chef will give a preview of Septembers cooking segments.

Coming Up… will bring you insights into our Weekly GRAM This Week Series beginning September 3.


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Cannabis Justice is Racial Justice

Last Prisoner Project



“Ever since Harry Anslinger implemented [cannabis prohibition] in the United States, it’s main purpose has been a method of racial control by white people over communities of color and that continues to this day. We will not have racial justice in this country without cannabis justice and vice versa,” says Steve DeAngelo, the Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry.

GRAM spoke with Steve, the founder of Last Prisoner Project. He shared with us the mission and programs that drives Last Prisoner Project, as well as the stories of two specific men they are working to help.

This Nov. 2, 2017 photo released by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows Michael Thompson, who is incarcerated at the Muskegon, Mich., Correctional Facility. (Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections via Associated Press)

“Michael Thompson is in the 26th year of a 40-60 sentence for selling three lbs. of cannabis to an informant in 1994. After he was arrested, the cops went to Michael’s residence which he shared with his mother and his wife. And they went into a locked gun cabinet, they opened the cabinet and found some antique rifles that had belonged to Michael’s father. On those grounds, they said it was a gun crime, and because Michael had a couple of other minor offenses that had happened during this very intense street enforcement on the ground in the 1990’s in Flint, MI. Now he’s 68 years old; he has pre-existing medical conditions that make him more vulnerable to COVID, and COVID is present in the prison he’s incarcerated in. So we are desperately concerned that Michael is going to get COVID and potentially die, and his already outrageous sentence turns into a death sentence. There are two petitions on Governor Whitmer’s desk for his release right now. One is a compassionate release for COVID; one is a clemency request; those requests for release have been endorsed by the Flint Prosecutor’s Office which is the office that originally prosecuted Michael (that’s something that never ever happens), but Governor Whitmer continues to sit on Michael’s petition; each day exposing him to a possible death sentence,” Steve continues. “There’s dozens and dozens of other cannabis prisoners who are facing similarly long sentences on equally bogus charges.”

The reality of it is it’s not our constituents who are the criminals. The real criminals are the people who passed these laws and enforce these laws.

Steve says, “Our position is that nobody anywhere in the world ever deserved to be arrested for cannabis charges and that nobody ever deserved to be in prison on cannabis charges. We don’t care what the amount was; we really don’t care what the “complicating factors” were. The reality of it is it’s not our constituents who are the criminals. The real criminals are the people who passed these laws and enforce these laws.” 

Corvain Cooper is serving a federal sentence of life without parole in Louisiana for a cannabis conviction because he had two minor charges on his record in the state of California that at one time qualified him for the three strikes law, but since he earned those convictions, the law has been revised, and the crimes that he was convicted for are no longer crimes that make you eligible for three strikes. “Yet, Corvain faces spending the rest of his life in prison when it’s really obvious that that is a grossly unjust thing,” says Steve.

Steve says, “Last Prisoner Project has a very single-minded mission, a very singular focus quite deliberately. There’s a lot of organizations who are working on cannabis reform in general, on legislation, who are working on equity and racial justice issues specifically. Our focus is even more narrow. We just want to make sure that every single cannabis prisoner on planet Earth comes home to their families and is given the resources they need to build the lives that were stolen from them. We are interested in further reform, we’re interested in legislative stuff, that’s not where we put our energy, we let other organizations focus there. We just want to get prisoners out.”

Within the first year of its inception, Last Prisoner Project figured out that there are about 40,000 people in prison for cannabis convictions in the United States. They still don’t know the world-wide total. “It’s many many times the 40,000,” says Steve. “Once we had our hands around the problem, the size of it, and where it was located, then we started thinking about the most effective ways that we could get the largest number of prisoners released in the shortest period of time with the funds that were available to us.”

Last Prisoner Project has a couple of programs that achieve that objective. Steve tells us, “One of them is our clemency program which works with governor’s offices in legal cannabis states to develop a set of standard parameters that would allow the governor, at the stroke of a pen, to release hundreds or even (depending on the state) thousands of cannabis prisoners.”

There are currently about 50 people in the United States serving sentences of life without parole for cannabis convictions. “For most of them, their cases are complicated and are challenging for governors to give clemency to. So we do know that–unfortunately, in some cases–we are going to have to raise the funds that are necessary to mount a new legal defense for people who have already (in some cases) been in prison for decades. It’s a very expensive proposition to do that; it’s a very time consuming proposition to do that; it’s an absolutely necessary thing to do.”

The second program within the Last Prisoner Project is the Prison to Prosperity Pipeline. “We want to make sure that when our constituents are released that they have a support network that is sufficient to make sure that their reentry is successful,” says Steve. That involves housing, training, and finding employment. Last Prisoner Project is already serving their constituents through this program and recently hired a full time staff member to administer the program.

82% of the arrests for the war on drugs were for cannabis possession.

“We have a few different ways that we work to fund those programs. Our ‘Roll it up for justice’ program asks cannabis retailers to ask cannabis consumers to make a donation at the end of their cannabis purchase, to at least round up to the next dollar from their cannabis purchase.” Steve states that the program spreads the burden out widely across the whole cannabis community and doesn’t call on anybody too much. “We encourage cannabis retailers to participate in the program, and we encourage cannabis consumers to patronize the dispensaries that do participate in that program. In a similar vein, we have our ‘Partners for Freedom’ program. This program allows cannabis companies other than retailers (growers, manufacturers, etc.) to make a commitment to be a sustaining partner for the Last Prisoner Project, and they earn the ability to put the Last Prisoner Project logo on all the packages of all of their products. The idea being that we want cannabis consumers to have ways that they can support the companies that are supporting the community.”

“We are in a unique time in this country right now. That’s put a fresh lens on law enforcement and what’s been going on with law enforcement over the course of the last two decades in the United States. And what many people don’t realize is that stop and frisk, cops on the ground in black and brown communities harassing people has been justified and driven by cannabis prohibition. 82% of the arrests for the war on drugs were for cannabis possession.”

Learn more about Steve DeAngelo and how he earned the moniker “The Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry” in an upcoming issue of GRAM. In the meantime follow @lastprisonerproject on social media and keep up with Steve on his new podcast: Radio Free Cannabis.

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Seizing The Opportunity to Educate the World

How an inner-city kid from Chicago used art + cannabis to take Denver by storm in celebration of black love, black art, + black lives.



The Black Love Mural Festival may seem like a simple play on Black Lives Matter efforts, but it is much more than your typical mural walk. It is the evolution of years of effort on behalf of its curator, Robert Gray. Gray is more commonly known by his brand, Rob The Art Museum, a concept that came to him during some of his earliest visits to art museums in the midwest. Rob’s life journey has taken him across the country, all in the pursuit of living a life that allowed him to enjoy cannabis and give back to his local and global community. 

Who is Rob The Art Museum?

Robert Gray, founder and curator of Rob The Art Museum, is originally from Chicago, Illinois. When he was in his early teens, he moved to Milwaukee. “I’m from Chicago, but I claim that I’m from Milwaukee, because that’s where a lot of my friends were when I grew up as a teenager,” Rob explains. It’s also where Rob was first introduced to contemporary and fine art, thanks to a newly built art museum, the same one that was featured in the Transformers movie series. 

“Milwaukee is really where I got into art. That’s where a lot of it started. I would try to get away from the city, running around, doing shit I wasn’t supposed to, and it was when they first built the art museum…it was this big beautiful white art museum that looked like a boat right off the lake. So when they built it, I was like ‘this looks cool, let me go try it.’”

Not only did he notice the beauty of the art he was enjoying, but he also found respite in the lack of familiar faces. “Milwaukee was a small city…Like if you go to Walmart, you’re going to see someone from middle school, high school; you’re going to run into someone. So this was like the one place I never ran into someone who was from where I was from. So it was like a different scene. it was very peaceful… But I always wanted to smoke blunts and be in an art museum at the same time. And I never thought it would be possible.” 

This idea would stick with him and eventually be the seed that grew into Rob The Art Museum. “It was always in the back of my head [and] that was kind of like where Rob The Art Museum started. I wanted people to have the same emotional reaction that I was having. I was having a spiritual reaction, a physical reaction, an emotional reaction when I was seeing these beautiful pieces of artwork, and it was like my first time really seeing any contemporary art…growing up in the city, we had art programs but it was like children’s art. Paint and paper. That was art, but I really never saw art like fine art growing up where I came from.”

The impression it left on him left him wanting to share those feelings with others. “So I was walking in an art museum and was like ‘Damn, I want to get this artwork out to my people who can’t afford–because it costs money to get into the art museum. If they can’t afford to get into the art museum, they definitely can’t afford anything on the walls. So how can I get this art out to the people? Rob The Art Museum. That’s kinda like where everything started. I was like ‘Oh, that’s funny. Like a double entendre with my name.’ But even then I did it like ‘I wish I could rob the art museum because I know that work is worth a lot. It doesn’t seem like they got top notch security either. I think a bank would be more difficult. Seemed like a good return on investment.’”

Chasing Promotions with No End In Sight

Rather than going through with this fantasy of robbing a museum, Rob ended up like many of us—in a job where he was simply chasing promotion after promotion. This led him from Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Kansas City. As he neared the age of 30, Rob realized his love of cannabis and his distaste for the promotional path meant he needed to reevaluate his pursuits. 

“My passions were weed and art, and I was in Kansas City, and it’s an 8 hour trip [to Colorado], and I’m over here buying weed in gas stations from people who looked like they smoked weed,” Rob explains. “I didn’t have any friends out there. But I was like he looks like he smokes weed, so I’m going to ask him, ‘bro you know where the weed at?’…One day I just packed up my bags and went to Colorado and just tried to figure everything out. That was three years ago.”

The Mile High Move

When he arrived in Colorado, Rob quickly joined the legal cannabis industry, becoming a budtender, but not before a life-changing car accident would further call into question his decision to move to the mile high state. “When I first moved out here, I was staying on the couch at my brother’s house just trying to figure everything out and one day after I got done smoking like a blunt, I just went to go get food. So I jumped in the car with my friend, she was driving, and we’re going up the way and a drunk driver came out of nowhere and hit us in a head on collision. I was really shooken up…So I ended up going to the ER, and it was a traumatizing experience because I didn’t have like anyone really out here with me. Me and my brother were going through some trials and tribulations…I didn’t have any other family out here. I was in the ER emergency room thinking I was about to lose my vision. And also thinking about being paralyzed because I just got into an accident. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore…

“So, long story short…I have a disability now where like my vision isn’t there in my right eye. It’s crazy that I’m involved in art and my vision is fucked up. And I was going to City, O’ City, which is one of the partners of this festival and the accident happened like right up the street [from Civic Park/City, O’ City]… It’s funny how this has all come full circle, and that’s how I started my trip off in Denver. I was about to go home. I was like ‘Fuck this shit man. I just got in the worst car accident of my life. I don’t have a job. Like, I’m not going to be able to get a job now being injured. I don’t have insurance.’ I was just going to give it all up and go back home and figure shit out.”

After the accident, Rob began smoking cannabis with a specific medical intent. “I was on prescriptions because I was in a bad car accident, all opioids,” he recalls. “Back home, I was smoking weed because, not because it was the cool thing to do but because I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for a medicinal purpose at that point. Maybe PTSD, but I was smoking weed just like every high school kid did. And this was the first time that I needed it to like actually relieve this pain, this unbearable pain. So it is great to be in a legal state and have legal access to it.”

Cannabis as a Career

As a budtender, Rob quickly learned the legal cannabis industry had its issues with race. He says it was a great experience as far as learning, but the work culture was toxic, comparing it to working as a cashier at a bad McDonald’s. “I got called the N Word by someone my first time working there. So it was like fuck, this shit’s shitty. There’s racism everywhere. But I just rode it out. I addressed it with corporate, and they handled it how I expected so that was nice. But budtending wasn’t for me.” 

While corporate worked to fix internal issues, Rob found an opportunity selling concentrates for another company, Craft Concentrates. He recalls the experience being novel, giving he was selling weed on the phone legally, but it was a cold-calling effort and was hard to get accounts that weren’t already carrying the product, something he likens to selling cars. During his time with Craft, he was also doing humanitarian work on the side like park cleanups and feeding the homeless in places like Denver’s RiNO art district, which gave him a positive way to give back and an alternative focus to cold calls.

“My mom always told me that it’s important that you give back. And I feel like inside, if you’re taking from a community, you should give back to that community.” One day, Craft was going to move offices and throw away all of the food in the refrigerator. Rob asked if he could have it. Knowing he was a vegan, they questioned what he would do with all of the meats and dairy products, and he told them he planned to cook it and make meals for the homeless with it. After that, they started to take note of his efforts, making him Head of the Communications department, with the entire focus of giving back to the community. 

While this new opportunity was progressive for the cannabis industry, differing views on what “giving back to the community” actually meant, would lead Rob to end that chapter and, as he describes it, “circle back to smoking blunts in the art museum.” His pop up art shows were beginning to take off. 

Pop Up Art Shows

The Rob the Art Museum pop up art show is a cannabis-friendly, art event with vegan-friendly foods highlighted, non mainstream, undiscovered and underrepresented artists. It started a wave that would eventually take the efforts nationwide. 

“Now that I had a decent job [with Craft] that could fund my crazy ideas that I had, I used that money to rent an AirBnB because I wanted to make a cannabis-friendly art museum, and I couldn’t do that with the Denver Art Museum. So I rented out an AirBnB. It was four stories, had six different bed rooms, and I curated each room to be like a different theme.” Rob recalls approaching as many artists as possible on their Instagrams, only hearing back from about one in ten. They had a bunch of vegan food, good legal cannabis to enjoy, and he invited as many people as possible to see all of the art that he’d hung throughout the house. “We lost money the first time, but it was fun. People came out, and it was fun. I was like ‘I’m going to keep doing it.’” 

His friends could not believe he was going to do it again, taking all the time and money to coordinate the event. But Rob valued being top of mind regularly with the audience. “Consistency is key; I knew we had to keep doing it so that people would take it seriously,” reiterating that it wasn’t a “one off” event due to its somewhat random and unprecedented nature. 

Eventually, Rob ended up throwing one of the larger afterparties at the Indo Expo 2019 in Denver, inviting cannabis influencers to an art, cannabis, and smoke-friendly affair with good vegan food and good vibes. The next month, he repeated the event for his birthday party, telling his friends to come out and smoke with him since the AirBnB owner was allowing him to use the property. By March, they were actually focusing on art curation as the focal point of the event and starting to make a few hundred bucks each time. 

4/20, Private Events, & High Times

With April came the annual celebration plans for 4/20, and Rob’s intention to use the AirBnB came to a halt when he received a letter ordering him to cease and desist because the owner had listed the location’s address publicly. The event had to be private to allow consumption according to Colorado law, and Rob was forced to make very public statements that the event was cancelled. For those in the know, the event still went on, but in a much more private manner.

After this issue due to a technicality, Rob was invited to throw pop up events under his moniker around the country at High Times events. He traveled to Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a variety of large metro areas, setting up his museum and spreading the brand nationally. Denver may have taken a backseat, but as he became more introduced to the art scene and the people within, a chance encounter at a Denver Dispensary would be the seed that became the Black Love Mural Festival months later.

Black Love Mural Festival (BLMF)

After efforts with High Times came to a close, the transition to Rob upping his art efforts in the festival scene was an almost seamless transition. He met Annie, the owner of IRL Art, and they exchanged contact information when he learned she worked with Meow Wolf. They did big festival installations at Far Out Factory, Sonic Bloom, Arise, Gem and Jam, and similar events. Rob eventually secured a spot working with her in October 2019, and became CMO of IRL Art in February. 

“Black Love Mural Festival started with being in festivals with [Annie],” Rob explains. “These are all her walls that we bought,” motioning to the black plywood board structures around civic park that were constructed in mere hours. Originally, the idea for the festival had stemmed from a park cleanup effort. One of Rob’s friends knew he was involved in park cleanups and asked for some help overseeing efforts to clean up after protests in Denver. During the cleanup, Rob invited a local artist to live paint a mural to help lighten the mood, and the idea to create walls that could be painted on while also protecting local landmarks came to fruition, initially dubbed “Protect The Park.”

“I didn’t know this was possible,” Rob explains of the mobile mural walls, “to take plywood and build into portable walls and have artists come out and do these big pieces, I didn’t know it was possible.” Originally, Rob had wanted to do a large scale art installation in small scale neighborhood parks to bring the beauty and influence of art into communities that wouldn’t otherwise see it. When the opportunity to take that approach and do it in the center of Denver happened, Rob couldn’t help but seize it.

After a quick pitch to local officials and the Mayor of Denver, Rob and his business partner hammered out a proposal and secured funds for the initial effort. “I want to make sure that black people aren’t blamed for what’s happening,” explains Rob of the motivation behind the festival. “Because, no matter who does the vandalism, no matter who does the looting, it’s going to fall back on the Black Lives Matter movement because that’s what everything is focused around… I want to put a black face to the good that we are doing.”

They pitched the idea as a dual-purpose initiative: for the city, they would protect the monuments using temporary structures to help minimize damage and vandalism. For the community, they would use the walls of these structures as blank canvases to showcase the love and art of Denver’s black community. Once approved, the structures had to be built. Rain and cleanups cut into setup time, leaving them less than 48 hours to have everything set up. Then, they set about recruiting artists, offering subsidies for supplies and starting a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $10,000 to pay all 30+ artists who have since become involved. As of the end of June, they have exceeded this goal. 

Asked how it is going, Rob offers a simple “Awesome.” He comments on the fact that this is the first art event he has been to—and for many of the artists participating—that was all black artists, saying normally there is that one token black person, or maybe not even a single person of color, which prevents the artists from being themselves. He’s proud they have curated artists ranging in age from nine to sixty years old, and artists walked up off the street after seeing the news coverage, wanting to get involved in a positive art community that was bettering Denver. 

As with everything that has taken him this far, Rob is seizing the opportunity to educate his peers and his community at large about the beauty of black culture as well as the ways humans can be better about treating one another equally. 

Opportunities & Education

When asked how he has gotten to this point in his life, and what his advice is to others regarding treating one another better, his answers are the same: Education and Opportunities. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to learn, do so. Learn about other cultures. Learn about new thoughts. Learn about personal trials and tribulations. Seize opportunities to grow, to learn, and to advance yourself and society as a whole. If you have the opportunity to lift someone else up, do so. 

Specifically, Rob speaks to the burden placed on people of color by those who are well-intentioned but lazy in their efforts. Wanting to learn more about the ways your black friends or co-workers may have encountered microaggressions or outright racism is healthy and helps acknowledge and change patterns of behavior, but there is a plethora of information available for you to get background information. Walking up to a black person and asking them to simply describe their plight is both burdensome and shows a lack of effort, contrary to the intentions of the question. 

Similarly, if you look around and aren’t sure of how you can better the black community, or any community, consider the tools in front of you. Rob mentions the trade of a carpenter, and asks the head carpenter to look around at his team; do you see any black faces? No, maybe try to hire some? Not finding any qualified candidates of color? Maybe create the opportunity for an apprenticeship or an internship where a candidate who is otherwise high quality could learn the craft and help to make the industry more diverse. 

Rob’s main point is: there is always an opportunity to help your fellow human and to learn more about one another, and we should seize every chance we can to lift one another up, regardless of color, creed, gender, or other generalizing characteristic. 

Create opportunities
for others,
even if they don’t exist.

The Black Love Mural Festival’s permit was extended through the end of July to allow for a longer display of the art and recognition of the black community. Rob is entertaining future ideas to not only bring the festival back annually, but hopefully to expand to other cities, and to preserve many of the pieces that were created in art galleries and museums, including those dedicated to preserving black art and history. 

Until then:
Educate yourself. Don’t just expect to be educated.


Make sure to check out and follow all The talented artists participating in this fantastic event.


























PJ and Crystal




Xavier Roscoe

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