#socialimpact B Corp black-owned coffee coffee at home lifestyle Social impact social responsibility
Three ice cubes clink in a round glass with a BLK & BOLD cold brew poured over. Its Co-Founder Pernell Cezar’s afternoon ritual, to fester in deep thought while doing “quality testing” of the product ruminating in his office. On a late afternoon, Cezar takes a breath, a sip and begins to talk about his childhood in Gary, Indiana.
“We lived no further than ten minutes away from each other,"said Cezar. That was the distance from his Grandmother to his Mother’s house. The two members of a larger family that decided to move, together, from Chicago. Cezar, his sister and his mom, who he lovingly calls “his little 4’9” firecracker” in one home. His Grandmother, in the other.
“Community was close but it was really a tight knit community and I say that in a sense of like, my mom’s friends, the friends I naturally created just playing in the streets,” said Cezar. One of those friends, would later be a Co-Founder for BLK & BOLD, Rod Johnson, who moved in across the street from Cezar in his Sophomore year of High school. Cezar began to laugh, “He was different in a good way but he was new…already known for basketball, he was a great student… he was kind of at the top of everything out of the gate so you know, I had to keep him humble.”
At the time he met Johnson, Cezar and their family had become one household with his Grandmother, while his Mother battled Hunington’s disease. As the only boy in the house, street ball and his small circle of friends was a deep breath. Cezar says being in Gary, Indiana was a day to day inspiration he would later come to appreciate. Even more so, after the expanded lens he learned in college, on a scholarship.
Cezar admitted, “I really didn’t have a game plan for higher education.” His plan was to graduate High School, work and try to take care of his family as the youngest and only man in the house. Heading to college wasn’t first on the list until a kismet opportunity lead him to a visit at the University of Northern Iowa. Yes, Iowa. Political flip flops aside, is a state that created slivers of hope, for Cezar, especially in the time he was headed to college. There, he felt seen on his first visit to UNI, “Adult staff identified me, they acknowledged my existence - that was different and it was just good vibes.” Along with the friendly waves that certainly weren’t the norm for Gary, Indiana, he was almost convinced.
Until four strong words, bestowed from his Grandmother, changed his mind. After Cezar declared he wasn’t going to college, he recalls, she replied, 'Maybe you should try.'
Cezar, did more than try. Ten to 12 college major changes brought him to a business major. As he retained knowledge on a subject every time he switched, he eventually landed on finance and marketing. The changes weren’t about the neutrality and ease of “finding himself” that many college freshman have the room for. For Cezar, it was about efficiency. “Ima go do this and I better get a job,” was his mindset. It was a process of elimination, a trait he still carries as an Entrepreneur.
Cezar finished his college career while semi-disconnected from Gary, Indiana and family struggles. In Iowa, he adjusted to his new environment as part of the ten percent of Black and Brown students on campus and focused on a path to what could bring a career. All heavy responsibilities and strides, especially as a young Black man.
The goal was always to work and for Cezar, it was a matter of survival as were the many learning curves of college life. Upholding his scholarship and finding an entry way to a job were his priorities; internships. A concept and term he first learned in college, and would become the catalyst for his coffee fixation after falling asleep on a presenter in his first practice job. A piece of fate that would lead him to, BLK & BOLD.
“Being past 30 and having all of this wealth of knowledge and expertise and succeeding amongst a chosen career path, got all tools…all the confidence but in what to manifest it through?," Said Cezar. As he reflected on the process that got him to BLK & BOLD it was no surprise, that again, Cezar’s process of choosing coffee was one of elimination. His years in business analysis, consumer goods and marketing had come to a fold. He knew he could venture on a road with faith, but could only do it with something and someone he believed in. Nothing seemed better than the sweet liquid that had sustained him through college, being a husband, fatherhood, and of course now, his business. No one seemed better than a childhood friend.
It took conversations with other Entrepreneurs and of course a solidified partnership with Co-Founder Rod Johnson, to begin and continue to build. As the company grows, so does Cezar’s mindset on what this brand means; not only to consumers, but to communities, like Gary, Indiana. “Product, impact, representation,” Cezar sounded them off like affirmative grades, that keep his business and himself, going, and they do.
“I feel personally accomplished in the sense of helping other people build a lens to either see or believe that there is more to life than what is in front of them... and shifting their lens on what impact could be, and that it’s made by being intentional.”
In other words; maybe, you should try.
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