April 08, 2021

By Bertram Keller

Contributing writer


West Coast Hip Hop artist, Stix, has made internal waves in the music industry for nearly 20 years; however, it is his entrepreneurial spirit that has propelled him to be recognized as a businessman of the people.

Born and raised in Watts, California, Brandon Salaam-Bailey, better known as Stix, founded the Think Watts Foundation to provide solutions for the unquestionable public health issues affecting Watts’s residence. Since then, the organization has been responsible for a wide array of free programs and grants, such as financial literacy courses, weekly meal programs, entrepreneurship training, and his ambition to provide clean water to the Watts community.

After sitting down with Stix, we discussed the deep-rooted issues affecting his hometown, and the steps he has taken to reconstruct an environment that was built by racism. “All the decisions that I make were all forced before I even came here,” said Stix. “They were all created by the system, and the system to oppress, and keep those in an area that limits their true progress … it’s kind of like we’re born into an unfair situation.”

During the interview, Stix had about three or four concurrent business calls; you could overhear a celebratory announcement saying, “We just got @2.1 million for eight months to house 120 people! The contract next year will be 3.1 million!” When asked about the announcement, Stix calmly said, “This is a call with WLCAC (Watts Labor Community Action Center); they just got a grant for $2 million to house individuals in the hood, like the homeless and different things like that.”

Stix continued to mention that the President and CEO Tim Watkins, son of the late Ted Watkins, has provided a great mentorship for him.

The WLCAC, originally established by the senior Watkins, has initiated various programs that continue to alleviate poverty in Watts and generally improving the quality of life for members of the community.

Later, Stix would reveal that he would dedicate the next Mega Watts album to Ted Watkins saying, “Ted Watkins is a historical figure from Watts. So, I am changing the name to Mega Watts: The Legend of Ted Watkins, and that will come out on Juneteenth.” Then he recommended a 17-minute video called Ted Watkins: A Practical Man, saying “Bro, it’s going to blow your mind. Ted Watkins, and what he did for Watts is insane, I can’t even explain it bro.”

With a mentorship from Tim Watkins and drawing upon inspirations from the likes of Jay-Z and the late Nipsey Hussle, it is no coincidence that Stix’s legacy is moving far beyond music—dedicating his time and resources to giving back to his community.

“I don’t like talking about stuff, I like action—you know what I mean? If I think of an idea, I want to execute it, whether I fail or succeed. As long as I get to exercise the idea, that is when I feel fulfilled. Fulfillment is within action; fulfillment is with exercising an idea. An idea is just an idea until you put action to it. I feel successful because I’m able to not just talk about it but be about it.”

Back in 1992, considerable grocery stores were destroyed by fire during the L.A. Civil Uprising, in which various areas in Watts are classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an urban food desert—where at least 100 households are more than half a mile away from the nearest supermarket. As a result, many families do not have the means to access healthy cuts of meat or even fresh vegetables. Stix’s Think Watts Foundation has partnered with multiple businesses to distribute a minimum of 150 free meals per week to residents.

“A lot of times, I’ll pay for a vendor that sells food—a small business, primarily Black-owned or Brown- [owned], and ill purchase $200 or $300 meals from them just to give out to the community,” said Stix. “We also do fresh produce boxes. I partnered with the LA Dodgers, I partnered with LAFC (Los Angeles Football Club), I partnered with the Harold Robinson Foundation [to] deliver 38-pound produce boxes to the neighborhood.”

Stix has also partnered with Jaden Smith’s nonprofit 501CThree to help resolve the lead contamination problem that has blighted low-income and minority communities. Watts’s healthcare providers reported to see blood lead levels as high as 13-15 micrograms per deciliter, well above the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) threshold of 5 micrograms per deciliter.

Stix said, “We come together and we identify areas in Watts that need to address water insecurities—whether there are extreme amounts of lead or toxins in the water system, and [so,] we connect these boxes and it pumps and filters out all the lead and toxins to push 10,000 gallons of fresh water… that pumps 10,000 gallons every 10 minutes of fresh filtered water right from the contaminated piping system into low-income communities,” he said.

The Think Watts Foundation is responsible for food drives, financial literacy programs, entrepreneurship programs, rental and utility relief funds, as well as launching a youth soccer club this fall.

It is safe to say that Stix’s goal is to create opportunities for people who desperately need it. He even briefly mentioned that one of his primary visions is to turn Watts into the “Black Silicon Valley.”

“Silicon Valley has a very small percentage of African Americans that participate,” said Stix, “and the goal is turn Watts into the Black Silicon Valley—you know what I mean? That’s the goal. I want [us to] create POS systems and develop apps and all kind of different tech-related projects that lead towards fueling the economy. That’s the goal man.”

Category: Arts & Culture