From living in a homeless shelter to opening the first female Black-owned dispensary in Los Angeles, Gorilla RX Wellness tells a story of hope, resilience, work ethic, creativity, and an unwavering passion for giving back to the community.
Created by mother-daughter duo Kika Keith and Kika Howze, Gorilla RX Wellness is currently approaching its second year anniversary — a proud, full circle moment given since the shop took multiple years to open its doors. Located in the culture-rich Crenshaw district, Gorilla RX prides itself in being a visionary dispensary, breaking down boundaries and reaching new heights within the cannabis industry.
Beyond their own standing as divine Black queens, The Kikas are huge advocates for those who are wrongfully oppressed by the country’s unjust criminal justice system. Given the fact that their shop was able to exist as a result of the social equity program, Gorilla RX is now paying it forward by launching their community benefits arm called Gorilla University.
Last month in August, nearly a hundred people lined up for an expungement clinic hosted at Gorilla University. Partnering with The Social Impact Center and The Hood Incubator, this program plans to activate a series of these training and educational facilities for those in the community — located right in the heart of Crenshaw. In regards to this new community space and other initiatives, Gorilla Rx has launched an Indiegogo campaign. The goal of this campaign is to raise funds for community-centered initiatives through Gorilla University and to continue to uplift diverse voices in the cannabis industry by funding new development of their retail space as well as their large selection of Black-owned cannabis brands.
Wearing the entrepreneurial hat, Gorilla RX also launched their very own flower line called the Color Collection. Black Label will feature different premium strains with exclusive drops. Blue Label is the upper Sativa, for the “chill and giggle” vibes. Pink Label is the upper Sativa Hybrid, igniting energy and uplifting your mood.
And what better way to celebrate than with your entire city? On September 30, Gorilla RX will host their annual Great Day on Crenshaw block party from 9:30 am to 10:00 pm.
Los Angeles magazine spoke with both Keith and Howze about their roots in South LA, their new flower brand, launching the educational incubator, their upcoming anniversary celebration, and more.
Los Angeles magazine: Talk about your roots in South Los Angeles and what it was like growing up there.
Keith: My family migrated from the East Coast when I was three years old to Leimert Park in the early 70’s. We’ve been in this community forever. I raised all my three girls, Kika is my oldest, right on 42nd and 6th Avenue. I walked these streets when my grandfather used to work at the Crenshaw Plaza right up the street from the dispensary. So to be able to come and build the enterprise, then to be able to give back and reinvest, is stuff that dreams are made of.
Howze: I’ve been extremely privileged to grow up in South Central because we’re constantly surrounded by culture. Gorilla RX sits right on Crenshaw Boulevard in the hub of Leimert Park. To be able to be on the last Black strip of Black enterprise in Los Angeles is super major.
Keith, you had a successful chlorophyll beverage business that was sold in Whole Foods. How did that set you up to open the dispensary?
Keith: That was my first time understanding the dynamics of working in a regulated industry. Working with consumer products, then having to engage the community to want to come and support you from a commerce perspective. Those years we really just used grassroots marketing with the drink and were first to market in Whole Foods. But we started that when we were in a homeless shelter, at the Hollywood YWCA. Living out of the top floor, going down, and taking drinks to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market.
Being able to access the economic development opportunities while we were homeless, going to the business development centers, and getting pro bono legal assistance was a game changer. The experience with taking the drink from the kitchen to market served me well once I learned about the social equity program in LA. At the time, we were in over 300 stores, but it felt like we were working for Whole Foods and everybody else was getting the check.
When you were there, did you ever think you’d be opening your own dispensary?
Keith: Sheesh, no way. Our first entry into the cannabis industry was in medical marijuana dispensaries. We infused a drink and it was called Chronic Tonic. Back then, that was the wild wild west with dispensaries. I would’ve never thought that this opportunity would arise.
Congrats on your new flower brand, the Color Collection. Break down the tiers and where you guys source from.
Keith: Our concept for what a house brand would look like has evolved. It was always the intent coming into retail for the first time, that we were really going to take some time to create a test batch and really analyze data. Understand who the consumer is, not just our consumer. Because we have folks from every walk of life, from all across globally that come into our shop. What are their habits? What are they looking for? What experience do they want?
We wanted it to be a very personal experience that we wanted to simplify, and that’s what we did.
You posted following Marcus Garvey’s principles of cooperative economics. Can you touch on that?
Keith: I was raised by two Black revolutionaries and community activists. I remember studying and reading about Marcus Garvey. When I saw the community stock certificates he had, I realized this collective endeavor to invest in the Black Star Liner exemplified our ability to commit to economically building together. That has always been the tenant of who I am as a person, but with that mind of community and really building our people up collectively.
We’ve taken on those tenants, from the Black Book that we did where we were going around and highlighting Black businesses, to the events that we do. We’re always making sure that it isn’t just about us, that we’re lifting up others and being able to show it is a model of success.
What was the genesis of Gorilla RX University?
Keith: It goes to that analogy of giving a man a net and teaching them how to fish. It definitely is the vein of what we’re building and what we’re looking at. I was looking into the music academy that I had. We did the program for kids, but you had parents who were unemployed or didn’t have the means to provide these children with what they needed to thrive. When we look at the whole family, how do we help to reconstruct the family and our communities that have been ripped apart and devastated from the educational system up by the war on drugs? How do we create some benefit to that?
When I started that program, we had 300 kids in the program, and 1,000 kids on a waiting list, and we were underfunded. We’d lost our building and were stuck with nothing.
This time around, I was going to raise money first before we started programming. So what can we do in the meantime? That’s when we were able to partner with The Social Impact Center and The Hood Incubator.
Each and every day, we’re learning and growing too. We’re talking to hundreds of people every day that we normally wouldn’t have a chance to talk to. When our drink was in Whole Foods, we weren’t talking to no customers. The drinks was sitting there. Now, we’re understanding these conversations that we’re having with customers.
What can attendees expect from the Great Day on Crenshaw block party on September 30?
Howze: In the tradition of Gorilla RX, when we first opened, we kicked off with the celebration to really welcome the community into this space. Pour libation to honor our elders, really the true nature of what our community represents. We call that the Great Day on Crenshaw, in the spirit of A Great Day in Harlem. A Great Day in Hip Hop, where Gordon Parks captured the iconic community that was Harlem. For me, having that parallel between New York and L.A. was important for us
Annually, we’ve been able to preserve that tradition with growing crowds and actualizing our community with WalkGood L.A., an incredible foundation started by Etienne Maurice, Ivy Coco Maurice, and Marley Ralph. It was a yoga movement, a breathing movement, and a hiking movement that was started in honor of Black lives after the death of Ahmaud Arbery. Their movement has scaled tremendously, centering Black and brown people in their wellness, in a really meditative space. A lot of times, in an outdoor setting. They’ll be coming over to Crenshaw and hosting a yoga experience.
Following that, we’ll be having our movie night, which was a community favorite that was previously hosted at The Plant Chica. A community greenhouse that has since been displaced due to gentrification, we’ll be bringing that moment back. A movie night that’ll be hosted by SUPERVSN, whose new flagship has just opened up the street on Slauson led by Gavin Mathieu, John Wheeler, Bethel Tammerat — definitely rooted in what South Central represents.
Issa Rae is on the October cover of Los Angeles. Any connections with her?
Howze: Issa Rae is really about uplifting local South Central businesses, when we first opened our doors we would regularly serve her team on multiple occasions to provide cannabis for their writing rooms. That led to a really great point of visibility when she collaborated with Airbnb and Team Epiphany.
She took over a Baldwin Hills home frtheir final season and had a guidebook that featured us alongside different businesses that folks could locally embrace and support. Gorilla RX was listed as one of those businesses. That was a beautiful nod. We never know who is really walking through those doors, which is why we really prioritize a consistent, elevated experience across the board.