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Former NBA Player Makes Impact On The Detroit Community With Viola Brands

(CBS Detroit) — A former NBA basketball player is advocating for reforming marijuana laws in Detroit with his cannabis company, Viola Brands.

Viola Brands works to increase minority ownership, reinvest into the community, create opportunities and produce premium products produced in California, Oregon, Michigan, and Colorado. 

Co-founder and CEO of Viola Brands, Al Harrington, recently spoke with Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about ensuring opportunities are created for the communities that are disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

"Our mission is to bring opportunities to the area. We started by investing millions of dollars to turn a vacant building into our facility, and we're continuing to improve the landscape by building out Detroit's cannabis business," said Harrington.

Credit: Viola Brands

Viola Brands works to support communities through Viola Cares, a partnership with the non-profit advocacy Root & Rebound established to provide resources to formerly incarcerated individuals transitioning back into society. The resources provided include public education and legal services, he explained in a recent Rolling Stone article.

"Through Viola Cares, we donate money to help people attain scholarships and business licenses, we launched an incubator program to train licensees through every aspect of the business, and we're actively involved in efforts to beautify the community through Motor City Makeover," he said. "There's plenty of opportunities in cannabis, and we want the people who suffered as a result of the war on drugs to have the opportunity to build generational wealth."

In 2019, Viola Brands expanded to Michigan with a dispensary located at 4473 W. Jefferson Ave in Detroit.

Reinvesting in Detroit entrepreneurs with an initiative to support local Black communities, Viola Brands took part in philanthropic events for the city, such as the community turkey drive in partnership with Motown Records. 

"Coming to Michigan, we wanted to become part of the community. When we were getting ready to open up in 2019, it was right before Thanksgiving, and we thought a turkey drive would be the perfect way to introduce ourselves and get to know the people of Detroit," said Harrington.

Harrington was honored by the city of Detroit for his "outstanding service to the citizens of Detroit" through philanthropic events and bringing new business and employment opportunities into the city.

"It means so much to me to receive the Spirit of Detroit award because even though I'm not from there, I love the city and admire the culture," said Harrington.

He also explained to Rolling Stone how Viola Brands is currently operating in the times of the coronavirus pandemic, saying, "We experienced a big shift in our customers' purchasing behaviors that required us to put more efforts towards delivery, but we've been successful in handling those dynamics and were even able to accelerate our expansion pipeline."

For their first campaign of 2021, Viola Brands launched the "Give Em' Flowers" campaign, featuring local artists from Detroit. 

GEF detroit
Credit: Viola Brands

It was launched around Valentine's Day, which is one of the biggest flower-giving days of the year and is in the middle of Black History Month. The campaign paid homage to Detroit artists, designers, and musicians who have impacted pushing the city's culture forward. 

Some of the local artists honored through this campaign were:

  • Rick Williams: for giving a portion of all profits from clothing releases to Detroit charities. 
  • Bre'Ann White: for her annual fashion show that donates to community organizations.
  • IceWear Vezzo: for toy drives, coat drives, turkey drives & everything in between that "drives" Detroit forward.
  • Tatiana Grant: Detroit Events Curator, Entrepreneur, Cannabis Advocate. Helps educate individuals about the opportunities for ownership in the cannabis industry.
  • Chris Morris: Owner of Dirt Label Detroit, consistently moves Detroit culture forward.
  • Ro Spit: Co-Owner of Burn Rubber Detroit And Rapper. Tastemaker of Detroit.

Visit Viola Brands to learn more about their products and how they plan to continue to create opportunities for underserved communities.

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