Retired Super Bowl champion Justin Watson wants people to drink coffee with a cause. He recently launched B L Q K Coffee, an artisanal coffee company that invests in providing educational tools to young people.
Watson was born in New York and grew up in a Jamaican household in Pasadena, California. As a kid, he was never exposed to sports or had a role model in the field but saw a sports scholarship as an affordable way to attend college.
Blessed with physical attributes and strong determination, he played high school football and was the first athlete in his school’s history to earn a scholarship to a Division I college. “My parents were happy that they didn’t have to pay for my college education, but they wanted me to focus on earning a degree, not just be a sports figure,” says Watson.
He played four seasons at San Diego State University before signing as a free agent with the Saint Louis Rams (now the Los Angeles Rams), who defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, earning Watson a Superbowl championship ring in 2000.
From Playing Football to Sourcing Coffee
Since retiring from the NFL in 2002, Watson has had an entrepreneurship mindset. He has a real estate venture, Studio Physique Athletic Club in Los Angeles County, and his most recent venture, B L Q K coffee company.
“This past summer, I was sitting in the backyard with basketball player Kevin Garnett, and we were talking about an incident that happened where a Black kid was kicked out of a Starbucks coffee shop,” he says recalling how he got the idea for B L Q K (which stands for Building Legacies for our Queens and Kings). “That night was Juneteenth — a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved persons. The next morning, I decided to assemble a team.”
Watson has been an avid coffee drinker and an inspiring speaker. But he never thought about using coffee as a vessel to be an agent of change for marginalized communities until then. “It has always been my passion to instill my knowledge in children. Through B L Q K, I can have a bigger platform and reach more kids.”
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Watson noticed a considerable difference in the educational structure of Pasadena and San Marino school districts, lacking basic equality in the education system. “When I went to school, we weren’t afforded the knowledge of understanding why it was so important to go to college. We didn’t tour colleges, take college prep courses, or get help with college applications,” expresses Watson.
The goal of B L Q K is to donate 25% of its profits to educational justice programs and give every deserving kid a chance to succeed. B L Q K partners with organizations trying to move the needle on social justice, such as Social Justice Learning Institute and Food Forward.
The programs offer mentoring, tutoring, materials, computers, etc., to marginalized communities, single-family households, and deserving kids who have dreams but not the means to achieve them.
“As we built our company, we would like to have our own non-profit — a Black Angel Program, to help kids we seek out and need financial help for educational tools,” Watson declares about the future of B L Q K.
Building a Brand
Watson’s mission with B L Q K is to make drinking coffee purposeful, right from sourcing sustainably, roasting meticulously and drinking without additives, to hiring Black employees, and reinvesting profits in underserved communities. “By supporting B L Q K, every cup of coffee you drink will make a difference,” states Watson.
To pay homage to the birthplace of coffee, B L Q K sources its beans from farms, especially women-owned farms in Ethiopia. They are committed to helping the farmers be more successful through educational programs, pay fair wages, and use only the top 1% of the best quality beans found in the world.
B L Q K also partnered with LAMILL Coffee in California to roast the coffee beans to a medium balance so that consumers can enjoy a premium cup of fresh coffee. “Our coffee is not bitter, and you don’t have to put additives like milk and sweetener in it,” advises Watson.
B L Q K sells an African blend that boasts a tasting profile of sweet caramel with hints of citrus and cocoa and a single-origin coffee from the Guji region of Ethiopia with flavors of berries, citrus and floral.
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Serving the World
B L Q K Coffee can be purchased through the website as a subscriber or a one-time purchase for $19 a bag. Watson also plans to open coffee shops around the world as well, and the first B L Q K location is scheduled for 2021 in Los Angeles. To be the first to hear about the opening, follow Watson and B L Q K Coffee on Instagram.