By Imani Dawson
Mondays are for meetings. For the better part of the day, MJM Strategy’s team members are glued to their laptops in different cities discussing projects via video conferences. But when your colleagues are also relatives, weekly meetings take on the easy camaraderie of family reunions, jokes and gentle teasing plus the latest news about kinfolks interspersed among the business points. This combination of work/life balance has instilled an extra layer of purpose in the company led by Dasheeda and supported by her sisters: me, Ice, and Vida.
MJM Strategy began as a strategic consulting company designed to help budding entrepreneurs and established organizations alike bolster performance and adapt to the burgeoning industry. Dasheeda envisioned a family-owned enterprise from the start. To honor our mother’s free-spirited legacy as an educator, counselor and long-time cannabis user, Dasheeda offered us part ownership and the chance to bring our skills and talents into the “green rush.”
Sometimes, it takes a tragedy of monumental proportions to shake off the security of the status-quo. On April 1, 2016, our wonderfully vibrant, vivacious and eclectic mother, a doctoral candidate with three masters degrees, the kind of woman who could artfully use the words “elucidate” and “motherfucker” in a single breath, passed away suddenly from liver cancer. As the eldest, it was my responsibility to deliver the news.
Mom had gone to the doctor for a routine check-up as part of her monitoring as a breast cancer survivor. We thought nothing of her distended belly, a tell-tale sign of liver cancer, and neither did her doctors. Her Monday afternoon check-up turned into an overnight observation at the hospital for shallow breathing. By Friday evening, she was dead.
“Mom is gone.” I spoke to Dasheeda by phone in a quiet, even tone masking the grief churning inside. I was determined to be strong for my little sisters.
Dasheeda, our family problem solver who instinctively understands the meaning and subtext of almost everything, was for once stunned and bewildered.
“I don’t understand how this happened.” Her voice was broken by sobs.
We buried Mom a week later on a warm Atlanta, Georgia spring day, surrounded by forty people, just a slice of the thousands she’d touched during her sixty years.
Afterwards, her four daughters went our separate ways. Dasheeda headed back to New York, attempting to regain a sense of normalcy. On her first day back to work, she quit her high-powered gig as a senior-level retail executive at a Fortune 500 company. She packed her bags and headed to Arizona to heal and reflect on her life and purpose.
Procuring a medical marijuana card was one of Dasheeda’s first moves as an Arizona resident. After relying on black market cannabis to relieve arthritis pain and anxiety, she was grateful for a legal method of obtaining the plant, but disturbed by her experience as a patient. She encountered products that weren’t properly labelled, budtenders who couldn’t provide information about medical benefits or recommend strains for her specific ailments, stores that felt dark and seedy. Immediately she recognized the opportunity to help expand the cannabis industry by bringing in the best business practices from traditional retailers. Inspired, she created the framework for MJM Strategy and shared her vision with the family.
As her older sister, I believed in the vision, but was initially uncertain about leaving my twenty- year career in communications for an industry that wasn’t fully legal in New York, my home state. I’m a wife and mother, and had to broach the subject gently with my more socially conservative husband. Decades of social-conditioning made us both hesitant. We had worked hard to move beyond our working-class upbringing in East New York,one of Brooklyn’s most notorious neighborhoods. We recognized how tenuous success could be for people of color, particularly in a volatile economic climate and that any misstep, like a drug-related arrest, could curtail a promising future.
Ice, the baby sister, jumped in with Millennial eagerness. The second official MJM employee, she rode shotgun for all the excitement and uncertainty of the company’s first year, flying across the country from coast to coast for a dizzying number of cannabis conferences and events, and managing the social media platforms that recorded every exhilarating moment. Ice became known as the Cannabis Socialite, on the scene for the trendiest industry gatherings and exploring cannabis culture from an unapologetically girly-girl point of view. She is a white-clad whirling dervish at events, snapping selfies, on all the social medias, spreading love, peace and cannabis to anyone who’ll listen.
After watching Dasheeda and Ice crisscross the country from California to Florida building a diverse client base ranging from small start-ups to sovereign nations, I took the leap, joining the company as a VP and Managing Partner in January 2018. I oversee the content that we create for clients and internal brands and ensure that our messaging is powerful, informative and inspirational.
In March 2018, our sister Vida came aboard, tasked with building out a retail operation for The WeedHead™, the content and commerce platform Dasheeda has created to document her experience as a corporate executive turned cannabis trailblazer. Vida is the third of our mother’s four girls, a fitness enthusiast studying to become a certified trainer (she has the best abs of the crew). She has found her niche by combining cannabis’s wellness benefits with working out.
We are the satellites that orbit Dasheeda. She had the courage to walk away from a comfortable life that left her feeling unfulfilled; the vision to recognize cannabis’ enormous potential for wellness, wealth building and transformation. She had the resilience to survive the bootstrapping phases, endless days writing business plans, making pitches and sleeping on friend’s couches when necessary to start and grow the business.
With Dasheeda’s growing prestige, the model has shifted to focus on developing our in-house brands, including The WeedHead™. Her mission to broaden access to medical cannabis for all communities and make the industry equitable and just, particularly for those disproportionately impacted by America’s war on drugs, has remained steadfast. But her vision for how this manifests as a revenue-driving business is elastic, moving deftly to fit the rapidly-changing industry.
Dasheeda’s advocacy led her to create C.E.A.S.E., a non-profit organization aimed at increasing awareness and education about the medical and economic benefits of cannabis for consumers, especially those vulnerable to the racism and classism plaguing America. She’s partnering with organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, Minorities for Medical Marijuana and local lawmakers across the country to push for restorative justice measures such as record expungement and equity licenses to level the playing field for people imprisoned for low-level drug offenses.
But her ultimate gift to the community is the move into formal cannabis education and training. To empower the next generation of cannabis entrepreneurs and investors and increase their chances for success, Dasheeda created an online masterclass and workbook titled How to Succeed in the Green Rush—for entrepreneurs, contractors & professionals. The WeedHead™ masterclasses and workbook series provide a solid foundation for prospective entrants, allowing them to sidestep many mistakes that have bankrupted others chasing dreams of fast money dancing in the sticky green.
For her next big venture, Dasheeda has come full circle, returning to her consumer product background as President and CEO of Good Way Brands, a privately held company that develops, markets and distributes its own high-quality hemp-based, cannabinoid-infused consumer products and brands.
There are no overnight success stories in this industry, and Dasheeda and her little company that could are no different. Our organization is being built brick by brick, by blood, sweat and tears, long nights and client meetings, small events and big ones. It is the culmination of her efforts as a Brooklyn-born scholar athlete with the audacity to dream big and play hard and keep going long after everyone else has quit. Others may have more money and connections but no one has more heart. It is Dasheeda’s heart, home of her compassion and courage, that keeps us going, telling us we will win. We choose to believe it.
MJM Strategy is a family business determined to transform the face of cannabis.