Influential Leaders

Pernell Cezar

CEO and co-founder, BLK & Bold
Recognition Year(s): 2022
Area of Impact: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
School: College of Business, University of Northern Iowa
Location: United States

From a childhood in economically devastated Gary, Indiana, to a predominately white university for business education, to his own business, Pernell Cezar has been an instrument of change. Now with a national presence, Cezar shows large organizations and shoestring minority startups alike how to exercise social responsibility, invest in diverse communities, and be effective agents for social justice. 

The name BLK & Bold speaks to its products—black coffee and teas with a bold taste—but also describes Cezar and his co-founder Rod Johnson as “men, entrepreneurs, and their approach to life. They say, “We are, and have always, embraced being both Black and bold.”

Childhood friends Cezar and Johnson have committed to giving back to communities similar to those in which they grew up. BLK & Bold pledges 5 percent of profits to initiatives focused on youth programming, enhancing workforce development, and eradicating youth homelessness.

Strategic partnerships also amplify diversity and inclusion causes: for every bag of NBA-licensed BLK & Bold coffee purchased, the NBA matches BLK & Bold’s 5 percent contribution to the company’s pledge partners. Ben & Jerry’s limited edition Change is Brewing cold-brew coffee ice cream attracts support for the People’s Response Act, a bill focused on police reform, and BLK & Bold is partnered with Target to co-develop the new Forward Founders accelerator program. 

Cezar graduated from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) College of Business in 2010 with bachelor’s degrees in finance and marketing. He leveraged what he learned to quickly grow his business from a small startup in his garage to a national brand that is now the best-selling coffee brand on Amazon, in less than three years. He has woven the value of social responsibility into BLK & Bold’s DNA by combining sound distribution, sourcing, and financial practices to ensure sustainability and to positively impact society. The company is Fairtrade Certified, meaning it follows strict environmental, economic, and social standards. Cezar’s BLK & Bold serves as a perfect example that business can be a force for good. 

At UNI, Cezar served as the first Black student body president, encouraging the predominantly white campus to confront social justice issues and serving on the search committee that hired the university’s first Black provost.

Depite having a young venture of his own to nurture, Cezar continues to give his time to inspire others. He provides valuable advice as a member of Target’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Council as well as his alma mater’s Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship advisory board. He is relentless in working with Black entrepreneurs on how to operate within the realities of the business environment. He recognizes his role as an inspiration for future business leaders, stating, “We definitely look to use our voices as a megaphone to let people know they can beat the odds, they can accomplish anything—even in areas where they don’t see representation, they can pursue their dreams.”