Kennedy Orr Wants to Create a Cannabis Industry for the Culture
There’s an old adage that says, “You don’t choose HBCUs; HBCUs choose you.” For Kennedy Orr, that couldn’t have been more true. “I knew that in my heart I wanted to go to an HBCU,” the 19-year-old says. “I didn’t care where it was as long as it was an HBCU.” For Orr, it was simply a matter of selecting the university that could help cultivate her interests.
Born and raised in Chicago, Orr landed on Southern University and A&M College, the largest historically Black college or university in Louisiana; she felt the institution’s robust agricultural programs would bolster her purpose. Orr is a USDA/1890 National Scholar, a coveted honor that promises full tuition, books, and room and board to HBCU students for up to four years. As an agricultural business major, the sophomore plans to make inroads toward a more equitable cannabis industry.
While states are swiftly legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational intent, the African American community (often the target of the egregious war on drugs) has yet to capitalize, careerwise, on the burgeoning market as long-standing economic racism splinters their opportunity. “I know in my home state it’s been difficult for Black people and minorities of all colors to get their licenses and open up their businesses,” Orr says. According to a 2021 Leafly report, Black-owned dispensaries make up only 2% of America’s estimated 30,000 cannabis businesses—a glaring disparity.
Orr is still figuring out where exactly her advocacy will take her professionally—law school and policy are top contenders—but on campus she’s cultivated an impressive résumé. She’s sophomore class president for the 2022–2023 SGA administration, a member of the national organization Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences, and an intern for Southern University’s athletic department. With a demanding schedule and distinct campus visibility, she says she also has to wrestle with the intergenerational pressure to be perfect.
There’s a code of respectability politics that lingers within the Black community: Presentation precedes everything. It’s an unspoken pressure that emerged during a time when African Americans had to assimilate their appearance to combat discrimination as they sought equal rights. The pressure still exists, of course, although HBCUs are offering spaces for students to learn to dismantle it. “I always used to feel like I had to be perfect, dress a certain way or have my hair a certain way,” Orr says. I never wanted to have too much fun or be free-spirited. Going to Southern, I learned that we could unlearn that. Yeah, people are watching but for other reasons. You have to learn to be in the moment.”
We sat down with Orr, one of Glamour’s 2022 College Women of the Year, to learn more about what’s next for her advocacy.
Glamour: What was the first moment that you realized entering the cannabis industry was your purpose?
Kennedy Orr: I did a 2021 internship with Juliana Stratton, the first African American to serve as Illinois’s lieutenant governor. I was considered their student agricultural adviser. Something we talked about during my time there was the start of the legalization of cannabis here in Illinois and how difficult it’s been for minorities to get their license, how difficult it is to apply for it, and the lack of funding they’re getting. That showed me this is something I want to do and a field I want to be in. For me to be successful, I have to pave the way for others. We have to understand how laws are being written against us to make the change.
What is your favorite historical fact about Southern?
We were the first HBCU to have a live mascot, LaCumba, which is our jaguar. I believe we’re the first; that’s what they always say, so hopefully they are right. I feel like that was such an amazing thing because we are so prideful about our mascots and where we come from. Like, a jaguar is one of the fastest big cats. So I feel like as an institution we pride ourselves on being some of the best of the best and always setting that standard and being so prideful of where we come from and always being so fierce. You know we say we graduated from Thee Southern University and A&M.
Do you agree a lot of people don’t know about HBCU introductions and the power of saying “thee” and the word illustrious as an adjective before your school’s name?
I would say saying “thee” and “illustrious” gives you this boost. You came from somewhere that is so rich in history and somewhere that our ancestors literally built because we were not allowed in these white spaces and institutions. Saying these adjectives is like saying we come from somewhere that is deep-rooted in Black excellence and it has so much history. We are so prideful in where we come from. Being an HBCU student and being an HBCU grad is such an accomplishment. For me personally, going to an HBCU on a full-ride scholarship and all the things I’ve done so far, especially coming from Chicago, moving to a completely different state and being out of my comfort zone, I feel like I’ve done so much and accomplished so much already. I know that’s because of the opportunities my HBCU has granted me.
A lot of people don’t understand the grandiosity of campaigning at an HBCU for a position. Tell me about your experience running for sophomore class president.
This was so much fun. This is my first time ever being in the Student Government Association. So going for that big position, I was nervous because my freshman year I was extremely laid-back. I was teetering with the idea of running, but my mom, my boyfriend, and everyone else kept saying, “You need to do it, you need to do it.” So I came up with the theme of running under Chicago, my hometown. One day I had candy that was popular in Chicago that we’re used to eating. I had a food truck that sold Chicago-style chicken, lemon pepper wings. Then I had a bunch of snacks. Chicago-style popcorn, chips, things like that. It was so much fun meeting all types of people. It was good networking with them and telling people about my platform points and sticking to those platform points now.
What’s a day in the life as sophomore class president?
I get up and go to my first two classes, and then I go to the SGA office to spend a couple hours there working on new ideas, planning out logistics for events. Most of the time, we have other events going on on campus that are SGA-related from the other orgs, like our Association for Women Students or Men’s Federation, or other class cabinets like our seniors or our juniors, royal court, our executive cabinet. We go out, help each other out, set up, work the event, and make sure everyone has fun, then break down the events. We then brainstorm with each other on what we can do better, what new ideas we have. I go back and do some homework. I’m constantly thinking of new ideas throughout the day and asking people what they think we should do and what new ideas they have—both fun and professional development.
What is one thing you love to do to unwind after your day?
Driving around and listening to music. After a hard day, whether it’s a 5-minute or 10-minute drive, I just love to get in my car, windows down and sunroof out. It’s very therapeutic for me. Brent Faiyaz is a big one for me. His music always matches my vibe.
What’s the best piece of advice that you feel like you’ve received at your HBCU that you’ll keep forever?
I think it’s that people are always watching. People are always going to notice what you do, whether it’s good or bad. You have to remember to carry yourself in a way where people cannot look down on you for one little mistake or one little outburst. It’s always important to keep your composure, reflect who you’re trying to be, and always set a good impression. When you’re defeated, sad, or frustrated, you have to reach a moment where you can shake it all off. It’s showing that through adversity, you got it. People will have a different level of respect for you. Nobody is going to think I’m perfect, but I always want to keep people motivated. I want to show that, no matter the obstacles, you can cry about it that night, then get up the next day and move forward.
Who is one woman that inspires you to always move forward?
My mom is Miss Do It All. She has accomplished so much in her lifetime. I see how she takes control of every room that she’s in. She is not afraid to try new things. She was an educator right after she got out of college, and now she’s working for the government. She teaches me that you can do so many things in this lifetime. You don’t have to stick to one thing. She’s always taught me that being independent is not a bad thing because at the end of the day, you will attract people in your circle that are meant to be around you. She always tells me that I inspire her, but to this day, she inspires me.
What’s the thing you’re going to miss most from Southern when you graduate?
Daily student life. I have met so many people and I love hearing about what people want to do on campus and their future careers. It’s beautiful to see people from different backgrounds and different cities.