• A police Chief and a trainer

      (L-R) Justin Watson and Eugene Harris

      Black History month was officially recognized in the US in 1976, but as early as the 1920’s, Carter G. Woodson worked to have the rich heritage and achievements of African Americans recognized, particularly by African Americans, who were taught very little about the history and accomplishments of their race.

      By Chasity Jennings-Nuñez

      The first Black History Week was announced in February 1926. This year, for the first time, the city of San Gabriel officially recognized Black History Month with a proclamation read at the city council meeting on February 16th.

      Although its Black population is small, Black history is still being made in San Gabriel. I was able to interview Justin Watson, owner of Studio Physique, the only Black-owned business in San Gabriel and Eugene Harris, the Chief of the San Gabriel Police Department. Two Black men who are making Black History every day.

      A trainer in a blue t-shirt

      Justin Watson (Photo – studio-physique.com)

      Justin Watson 

      Justin Watson, was born in New York to Jamaican-immigrant parents. His successful NFL career with the St. Louis Rams, would seem impossible knowing that sports was not at all a part of his childhood. “Football really wasn’t a prominent thing in my home. We didn’t watch football games on TV. I grew up in a house that never watched a college or professional game on television.” He only played one year of high school football at Marshall Fundamental in Pasadena before he got a full athletic scholarship to San Diego State. Despite getting a full-ride, Justin was still not committed to football, but since he was expected to “breathe, eat, and sleep football” he began to see the appeal. Although he was not the best player on his team, his determination and commitment to giving 100% in everything he was asked to do, was rewarded when senior year his head coach helped him secure a place with the San Diego Chargers. From there, he went on to play 3 seasons with the Rams, collecting his ring for Super Bowl XXXVI.

      His mantra has always been what his parents instilled in him “work hard, be diligent, and never make any excuses. Just push forward”. Justin had always planned to be a businessman and was motivated by his desire to mentor other young athletes. His brick-and-mortar business was initially located in San Marino. He quickly outgrew that location and in 2008 he purchased his building in San Gabriel, renovated it and opened Studio Physique in the current location.

      Mr. Watson has leveraged his sports background and “walked with a certain confidence and kindness” that has allowed him to navigate and diffuse the biases that might otherwise be obstacles.

      “As a man of color, I have to hold myself at a higher standard. You can’t let your guard down and you can’t be off. As a Black businessowner, there is an obligation to represent my color well.” When he joined the San Gabriel Country Club in 2006, Justin was the first Black member in the club’s 102-year history. He recalls certain club member actions that were based in implicit and explicit biases. His status as a successful, professional athlete allowed him to bring his culture with him.

      “I don’t change who I am as a person. I use my same language and charisma that Black people have and same swagger. I don’t hide any of that and I try and show that to other cultures so that they can embrace what a Black man is and what he represents. I’m going to be who I am.”

      While others during the pandemic are trying to hang on to one business, Justin is starting a new one. After talking over the idea with former NBA player Kevin Garnett, Justin put together his team and the idea for BLQK Coffee– Building Legacies for our Queens and Kings. Beans are sourced from Black owned farms in Ethiopa. The brand wants to show homage to the Black community and culture, and they are committed to “pouring” 25% of the profits back into marginalized communities to support social justice initiatives, improve access to education and bridge opportunity gaps.

      His advice to young people?

      “Follow your dreams, be passionate about something, execute on that passion and stick with it. Put in the hard work and dedication and be a believer at the end of the day.”

      a chief of police in his uniform

      San Gabriel Chief of Police Eugene Harris (Photo – sangabrielcity.com)

      Eugene Harris

      Eugene Harris has been the Chief of the San Gabriel Police Department since 2016.

      Chief Harris is a native Angeleno and was raised, with his brother, in a single -parent household, in the Wilmington-Carson area. He credits his success to the foundation laid by a “strong, Black mom” and honors her every year by giving her a present to celebrate his birthday.

      After high school at age 17, he knew he needed more discipline and structure to become the man he wanted to be, so he joined the US Marine Corps. He recognizes that the military is not the path for everyone, but “in the real world, that I was a part of, it was another opportunity that no one was forced to take, but it was an opportunity”. He traveled all over the world with his unit and learned the skills and maturity he needed to succeed. After he was discharged from the Marines, he briefly worked with the LA Sheriffs Dept and then moved to the Monterey Park PD. He remained with the MPPD for 23 years before setting his sights on being a Police Chief. He wanted to “be in a position to impact the whole of law enforcement” and tested at several cities before the position in San Gabriel became available. In San Gabriel he saw a fit because he recognized the opportunity to become deeply rooted in the community engagement piece of law enforcement.

      What impact can I have on my community?

      In the short time since Chief Harris has been a part of the SGPD he has instituted physical, organizational and administrative changes that started with improving internal communication. Gestures as simple as keeping the office doors open let the people in the organization know that communication was important. Strategic planning, team building and 360 degree evaluations were initially met with skepticism, but eventually the culture of the department changed. Establishing lines of communication with the community was next. Chief Harris instituted monthly “411 with the Chief” meetings and a robust chaplain program. When he arrived in 2016, there was no dedicated community arm to the police dept. He has instituted a Community Engagement Bureau and a Mental Health Evaluation Team (MET) that provides for a Department of Health Services mental health clinician and an officer with special training, to respond to calls in situations involving persons with mental illness. For the School Engagement Team he created, every officer in the department, including the Chief, is considered a school resource officer. Each officer is assigned a school and makes regular visits that are tracked and documented. Chief Harris authorized a “soft uniform” that consists of a Black polo with the SGPD emblem on the pocket, so that when the officers are on campus, they don’t have to appear so aggressive.

      It has opened us up to meeting the kids other than when there is a law enforcement problem.

      We are going to be the police department that listens and interacts with the community. It’s not us against them. We are going to solve problems with the community”

      When asked how he is making Black history, Chief Harris says, “I want to perform today in the way that I want to be seen down the road. History begins with the decisions that you make today. From a Black history perspective, I want to be a Black person who represents my family, who represents my community, and makes sure that I set an example for what all people should be like. I am a proud Black man, I am a proud American and I want to do things that will make this a better place. If people say good things about me and I can influence others, then I’ve made history.”

      San Gabriel is stronger because of its diversity and these two men represent some of the best of San Gabriel.


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      Comments

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        There is a moving in the works about my life. Trust me there are other African American owners in San Gabriel Valley.

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