How I Gave Away $1,000: A Journey with the National Cannabis Festival 2018 Community Change Makers Award

In 2018 Minna Nilanont, owner of local-favorite Hemp Kettle Tea, was presented with the inaugural Kevin Kareem Cross Change Makers Award. Keep reading to learn more about Minna and how the award money was used to honor Kevin’s memory by giving back to others:

Minna Nilanot, surrounded by Kevin’s family and friends, accepts the inaugural Kevin Kareem Cross Change Makers Award at the 2018 National Cannabis Festival on April 21, 2018

Minna Nilanot, surrounded by Kevin’s family and friends, accepts the inaugural Kevin Kareem Cross Change Makers Award at the 2018 National Cannabis Festival on April 21, 2018

By Minna Nilanont, M.Ed

On April 21, 2018, I was honored to receive National Cannabis Festival’s first Community Change Maker’s Award. I was surprised and humbled. As I accepted the award on stage, I encouraged everyone to take care of their neighbor.  I pledged to give the prize money away over the course of a year.

My family is first generation Thai-Chinese and American. We struggled through hardships, but my family taught me to share and care for others no matter what. Money comes and goes, but there will always be more. As long as we are able to use our hearts and minds, we will be able to come together and provide. The immediate needs of our friends and neighbors are most important because we do not survive alone. We thrive in community.

It is in this spirit that I grew up donating time, money, resources, and services to various organizations who would help those who most needed it. This is how I came to receive $1000 and beautiful trophy in honor and memory of our dear friend and cannabis activist Kevin Cross, who would be one of the first persons to help and the last to leave.

When I listed all of the various organizations that came to mind to support (41 organizations and 6 individuals), I would end up giving $10-20 each on average. At first, I was dismayed that it wouldn’t be a single massive contribution to anyone except a few. But then I remembered that it is much more important that these organizations sustain themselves with contributions by many people. Every dollar counts and every person counts. I hope that in reading this, you will find an organization that resonates with you and inspires compassion to give what you can and want. That is the power of community.

Below is a summary of where I gave, the amount, and the percentage:

To support medical access and services for women, LGBTQIA, and vulnerable populations, $285 (28.5%) was given to Planned Parenthood, which provides family planning and medical services; HIPS DC, which provides needle exchange and a range of support services to sex workers; Chase-Brexton, which provides services to LGBTQIA communities on a sliding scale; Impulse Group DC, which supports men of color with HIV/AIDS; Casa Ruby, which supports the bilingual trans community; and Doctors Without Borders, which goes into war-torn countries to provide emergency medical services.

To support low-income populations with shelter, food, and resources, $255 (25%) was given to these organizations: Baltimore Outreach and Youth Empowered Society provide shelter, resources, information, and emergency services to homeless adults and youth in Baltimore. Habitat for Humanity rehabilitates homes for low-income families. Maryland Food Co-op is a worker owned and operated space that provides organic food options and progressive political organization on the University of Maryland, College Park campus. Maryland Food Bank, Virginia Food Bank, Capital Area Food Bank, and Fish of Laurel provide food to local communities in need. We Are Family DC supports city seniors with food delivery, cleaning, transportation, referrals, and more. The Garden Concert Series by Tattiana Aqeel helps fund urban gardening in Shaw. Internationally, Kiva uses the power of crowdsourcing to provide micro-loans to students, women, farmers, and small business owners in 80 countries.

Outside of formal non-profit organizations, I directly supported local trans/non-binary individuals and women with $170 (17%). Trans/NB folks are disproportionately underemployed, overworked, and face hiring discrimination. This money went towards rent, transportation, and in one instance emergency medical and funeral costs for a loved one.

To support survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, and gendered harassment, I gave $85 (8.5%). House of Ruth provides emergency shelter. RAINN and Fair Girls help survivors of rape, abuse, incest, and human trafficking. SurvJustice specializes in Title IX training, legal support, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault in colleges and universities. Hollaback Baltimore and Collective Action for Safe Spaces in DC empower individuals and communities to identify and fight back against street harassment and assault in public spaces.

To support the fight for racial equality and against systemic racism, I gave $60 (6%) to Black Lives Matter, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, One DC, and the Innocence Project which works to exonerate wrongly convicted through DNA testing and criminal justice reform.

To support vulnerable populations’ access to education, I gave $50 (5%) to DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, representing over 100 youth organizations to counter socio-economic challenges and Rett University which assists in educating those with Rett Syndrome, a physically limiting genetic disorder which mostly affects girls.

Because we live in an age of disinformation and bland music, it is more important than ever to support independent media, thought, analysis, and curation. I gave $49.36 to WPFW 89.3 FM Jazz and Justice, WAMU 88.5 FM National Public Radio, WTMD 89.7 FM Towson University independent radio, and the Wikimedia Foundation, for while Wikipedia is not definitive, it does give a good headstart for further research.

Growing up, I was an LGBTQIA youth looking for support and community. I found that in PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and SMYAL (Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League). Now as an adult, I am happy to support the National Center for Transgender Equality which provides political advocacy for trans and non-binary folx like me. I gave $45 (4.5%) to these organizations when in reality, I owe them so much more. Validation and affirmation of self is life and they taught me that I and others like me are worthy of love, dignity, rights, and recognition.

When I was in elementary school, I learned about saying no to drugs through DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). As I became older and dumber, and then older and wiser, I learned that not all drugs can kill, but misinformation about all drugs can definitely harm and kill. Like the failure of abstinence-only sex education, just saying “no” to drugs is only effective until someone starts using drugs. Once that abstinence is broken, as it frequently and naturally happens in high school and college-life, young people lack the tools to navigate safe, balanced consumption. It is in this spirit that I donated $20 (2%) to two organizations aimed at reducing harm and the damaging effects of the War on Drugs. Dance Safe offers free substance testing, condoms, hearing aids, and more at festivals and Students for Sensible Drug Policy mobilizes college students to push for drug policy reforms on campus and beyond.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate $20 (2%) to supporting Humane Rescue Alliance in DC and The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, where $10 feeds a pet for 1 week. As we bring dogs and cats into this world, we must continue our responsibility to humanely support them.

For exact dollar amounts allocated to specific organizations and to find information and donation links to the organizations I supported and will continue to support, please click on this link

Caroline Phillips