Photo: Courtesy of hightlitesbk.com
Danielle Olivarez found a community through cannabis long before she moved to Brooklyn. For the, Miami native, weed culture was much more open and apparent in her home state. But when she moved to New York, she was met with a stigmatizing, elitist attitude around weed—especially when it was being used by womxn and individuals of color.
The racial disparities surrounding cannabis are still hugely prevalent in the country, and New York’s demographic magnifies that problem. While weed is becoming more commonplace, recreational use hasn’t been legalized yet— which usually entails harsher patrolling and punishment for people of color caught carrying.
Olivarez couldn’t help but notice how certain communities (usually white and affluent ones) were able to flaunt their weed usage without stigmatization from their peers or the police, while people of color were looked down on for it. So, in order create a space of weed lovers, specifically womxn weed-lovers of color, to feel connected and empowered, she created HIGHLITES.
The grassroots organization and website helps to destigmatize cannabis usage, while serving as a creative space where womxn to connect and learn. Through articles, personal anecdotes and events, Olivarez hopes to elevate and engage the cannabis community so that their shared interest is better understood.
“Today, a lot of us have social anxiety, and smoking Cannabis definitely takes the edge off of taking those first steps in engaging,” she explained. “Combine that with solid music and a like-minded goal for feeling strong within yourself (emotions and all), and you've got a HIGHLITES event.”
She also wants the platform to be a health and wellness resource. As a yoga instructor, she specializes in helping students synch their movement and breath. Having found cannabis to be helpful in achieving that mind/body connection, she incorporates it wherever she can in her practices.
With a website revamp on the way, Olivarez hopes to reach even more womxn with her writing, classes and HIGHLITES events. She also has a ton of advice for those who are looking to connect in the city over common interests—something that she struggled with when she first moved.
“For starters, use your dating apps for more than just finding your next date! I found one of my closest friends on Tinder. Then there's going to your favorite spots and sparking a conversation with someone based on a similar interest or just because you're confident in what you bring to the table as a friend and want to share it,” she explained. “Finding community in a new city is all about standing proudly in your own identity so your people can find you while you look for them.”