That will be Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck to you.
The 46-year-old, who has long faced criticisms and jokes about her unusual name, secured her Ph.D. last month in higher education leadership from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin after eight long years of studying, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The ultimate cherry on top of this cake of #blackexcellence? Dr. Marijuana Pepsi decided to pick the dissertation topic: “Black names in white classrooms: Teacher behaviors and student perceptions,” a topic clearly informed by her own experiences.
She interviewed Black students at her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where she got her bachelor’s degree about how their distinctly “Black” names may have affected their treatment by teachers and their academic achievement, and she heard the familiar stories of a teacher pausing on their name to begin questioning them in front of everyone else.
As a child who left an unstable home at only 15, Dr. Marijuana recalls other struggles that she met with the name that her mother Maggie (Brandy) Johnson picked out for her.
“People make such a big deal out of it, I couldn’t get away from it,” she said.
Everyone, from teachers, classmates, bosses, and others got wound up about her name, teasing her, with some even suggesting that she legally change it. Some have refused to call her by her actual name, or insisted on calling her “Mary,” something that Dr. Marijuana refused to acknowledge.
And even though some people blame her mom, who named her older and younger sisters the common names of Kimberly and Robin, Dr. Marijuana thinks that is why she is the strong entrepreneur that she is today.
She is the director of the Beloit College program that serves students who are first generation enrollees, come from low-income families or have learning or physical disabilities. She is the owner of Action as Empowerment, a life strategy workshop, coaching and retreat business. She is a real estate agent.
And she’s lived up to the own goal that she set for herself as an incoming college freshman where she swore, “I’m going to be called Dr. Marijuana Pepsi!”
Now she uses her story to inspire the students that she meets.
“Regardless of what they do, say or what they’re trying to put in place, you still have to move forward and succeed,” she tells them according to the Journal Sentinel. “That’s my big thing. Don’t use that as an excuse. Use that as a steppingstone to keep on going. Leave those people behind and then you reach back. Each one reach one. Reach back and pull somebody else up.”
And Dr. Marijuana is reaching back to help others. She has been saving up for the Marijuana Pepsi Scholarship for years, and, starting this fall, she will give $500 every year to a first-generation African American student enrolled at UW-Whitewater, with priority given to students who graduate from her alma mater, Beloit Memorial High School.
Still, she does advise parents against naming their kids after weed.