(Press Release) BROOKLYN, N.Y. – February 14, 2023 – The Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling (The MJF) today announced the latest winners of its scholarship awards. 

Founded in 2020 and named after the legendary beer and whiskey author, Michael James Jackson, The MJF funds technical education scholarship awards to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color within the brewing and distilling trades, helping award winners further their professional education and progress deeper into these industries.

Over time, The MJF aims to go beyond funding individual scholarship awards, and use its winners to build a new ecosystem of BIPOC influence and leadership within the brewing and distilling industries, creating a sustainable cycle of professional education and mentorship that builds upon itself to provide opportunities for future generations of BIPOC individuals.

Over the past two years, The MJF has awarded the Sir Geoff Palmer Scholarship Award for Brewing and the Nearest Green Scholarship Award for Distilling to 29 individuals.

In it latest round of scholarship awards, The MJF is recognizing eight people with awards:

Dashawn Agbonze – a Nigerian-American Navy veteran, Dashawn grew up in very diverse South Florida. After completing his naval service, and unsure what to do with his life, he found comfort in the large gathering of friends and strangers around great food and beverage. He started his career as a dishwasher at the Cigar City Brewpub, excellent mentors that wanted to help him rise to the occasion and teach him, meant he didn’t stay in the dishpit for long. Over the past ten years he has traveled and worked across the U.S. with award-winning breweries and brewpubs of all sizes. He currently is the head brewer at Mastry’s Brewing Co.

Sofia Betanzos – born and raised in Yonkers, NY, Sofia found her interest and love in beer during the universal chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic. After discovering and enjoying beer while living with her older brother during the pandemic lockdowns, he later gave her a home-brewing kit. While in her last semester of college pursuing a degree in chemical engineering, Sofia followed her passion in beer to a job as a keg cleaner at Other Half Brewing, occasionally assisting in packaging. After graduating, she began working in the Other Half cellar.

Tony Jaquez – an immigrant of Zapotec and Tlaxcalteca descent from Tijuana, B.C., Mexico, Tony moved to the United States by himself at age 19 on a student visa to study at The University of Nevada, Reno. After receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering and spending a few years in that field, he took a leap of faith, following his passion to the craft beer industry. After spending time at House 6 Brewing and Port City Brewing, and completing the eCornell Craft Brewing online program, he joined Outsider Brewing in Asheville, NC.

Jamaar Julal – born in Brooklyn, NY, to parents who emigrated from Jamaica, Jamaar was raised in Norristown before moving to Philadelphia seven years ago to pursue his bachelors of science in Restaurant Management at Walnut Hill College. He held a wide array of positions in the restaurant industry for more than a decade before falling into his calling when he was introduced to fermentation. He’s now diving into the world of fermentation as founder of his own kombucha business, JamBrü Ferments, and Director of Fermentation at Honeysuckle Provisions where he’s developed products like Black Eyed Peaso and Shio Koji Marinade.

Kevin Limon – a first generation Mexican-American born and raised in Los Angeles with roots in Jalisco, Mexico, Kevin began homebrewing after being introduced to various beer styles at a local brewery. While completing his bachelor’s degree at Cal Poly Pomona, he enrolled in the brewers apprenticeship program hosted by the extended university and on-site brewery, Innovation Brew Works. That program equipped him to pursue a career in beer and he’s since gone all in. He currently is the lead brewer at Angry Horse Brewing in Montebello, CA.

Isabella Perez – born in Vallejo, CA, Bella grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area before attending UC Davis. While there, she changed her focus from chemical engineering to food science with a brewing emphasis after a general education course in brewing science and study abroad trip with the brewing department. While earning her bachelor’s degree, Bella worked as a student assistant in the campus brewery at UCD, a production intern for Almanac Beer Co., and brewer and beer server at Dunloe Brewing Co. After graduation, she spent time at the malthouse at MillerCoors and several craft breweries throughout California, before moving to the Columbia Gorge, where she currently works as a shift lead for pFriem Family Brewers, part-time production employee for Dwinell Country Ales, and an online teaching assistant for courses in beer quality through the UC Davis Extension.

Eric Pham – originally from Boston, MA, Eric transitioned careers in 2018, looking for a spark of creativity and the ability to work with his hands. This led him to an opportunity as a warehouse assistant at Lamplighter Brewing Company, with roles at Trillium Brewing Company, Tree House Brewing Company, and Other Half Brewing Company following. He’s now in a leadership position as the Head Brewer and Innovation Brewer at Prison City Brewing in Auburn, NY.

Chantel Starks – born on the west side of Chicago and raised in Atlanta, Chantel got her start in the distilling industry as a tour guide for a craft distillery in Savannah, GA. As she realized she had found the career path she had been looking for, thousands of questions and dozens of books led to a migration from tours to the production floor. She now works as a distiller for Corsair in Nashville.

The next round of scholarship awards from The MJF will be awarded in June 2023.

About The Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & DistillingThe Michael James Jackson Foundation for Brewing & Distilling (The MJF), formed in 2020, is a grant-making organization that funds technical education scholarship awards to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color within the brewing and distilling trades. To learn more about The MJF, visit www.themjf.org.