There is a history of shaming Black children for the names their parents decide to bestow on them. Whether people deem them too ethnic or detrimental to their child’s future, the village is never shy about weighing in on what they think of a child’s name. Some of those comments are about a genuine concern and some of them are rooted in antiBlackness.

But one woman with a doozy of a name proves that despite your nomenclature, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can achieve.

According to the Journal Sentinel, a woman named Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck recently received her doctorate from Cardinal Stritch University. Vandyck knew that she would be a doctor one day. So much so that she declared it when she was an incoming freshman. “I’m going to be called Dr. Marijuana Pepsi!”

While some people wouldn’t know what to make of such a moniker, Vandyck, 46, always wore it proudly. She used it when she earned her master’s in education 10 years ago and began teaching in Milwaukee. Last month, after eight years, Vandyck earned her Ph.D in higher education leadership.

The Journal Sentinel, who interviewed her a decade ago when she earned her master’s, spoke to her again about her latest achievement and why she’s adamant about using her name.

Vandyck, is Marijuana’s married name and the third surname she’s carried. Her maiden name is Jackson, later it was Sawyer and now Vandyck—the name other her husband Fredrick.

Marijuana is the director of a program that serves students who are first-generation enrollees, who comes from low-income families or have physical disabilities. She also runs a coaching business that hosts retreats and workshops for people looking to change their lives. And she’s also a real estate agent.

She does a lot. Marijuana left an unstable home at 15 and has spent much of her life proving that she’s more than just her name.

“People make such a big deal out of it, I couldn’t get away from it,” she said.

Marijuana’s mother, Maggie (Brandy) Johnson said that she chose her daughter’s name because she knew it would take her around the world.

Unsurprisingly, teachers, classmates, bosses, and a slew of other people gave Marijuana flack about her name, with people suggesting she go to court and change it. There were those who insisted on calling her Mary, which she wasn’t with.

While many judged her mother as irresponsible, Marijuana credits Johnson for making her the strong, balanced and entrepreneurial person she is today.

Marijuana says that it was important she embrace the name so that people understand that you can overcome any obstacle in life to achieve your dreams. Vandyck is so passionate about the subject, it was the topic of her dissertation: “Black names in white classrooms: Teacher behaviours and student perceptions.”

Despite her name, Marijuana has never partaken in her namesake. She doesn’t drink Pepsi or other sodas either, with exception of a fruity soft drink or a Root Beer Float.

Marijuana plans to write a book about her dissertation and may become a professor. In the meantime, she plans on using the money she’s been saving for the Marijuana Pepsi scholarship to be awarded to first-generation, African American students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Dr. Marijuana Pepsi says ultimately, her name has helped her spread the message of her life’s work.

“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 her students. “That’s my big thing. Don’t use that as an excuse. Use that as a stepping stone to keep on going. Leave those people behind and then you reach back. Each one reaches one. Reach back and pull somebody else up.”




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