Kenroy Watson embodies the New York cliché that everyone here is from somewhere else. His journey started in the Caribbean. He made his way to Canada and ended in America, where he now owns a plumbing business and is the pastor of a church.
Born in Jamaica, Watson moved to Montreal when he was 16 but spent only six years there. What was his motivation for leaving Canada and making his way to Harlem?
“Pressure,” Watson told the AmNews. “At the time, I was working and going to school, and I was working at a restaurant as a bartender, dishwasher and bus boy … and the place closed down. So I had no income, no job and I just needed a change.”
Watson’s journey landed him in Harlem with his father, who already called the neighborhood home. Linking up with his father, who was a contractor, got him into the construction business, though Watson would recognize his calling very quickly while on the job.
“One day, I was watching the plumber work,” said Watson. “When I saw the way he cut up those pipes, piece by piece, I’m saying, ‘There’s no way he could know how to put it back together without laboring and making any kind of notes.’ Everything was in his head. That was in the morning. By the evening, every piece that he took out, he had put it back together and turned the water on. There was no leak.
“I’m saying to myself, ‘This guy is a magician.’ That’s how I got introduced to the plumbing business. This is what I want to do.”
After having his epiphany, Watson requested that he work with the plumber.
“Every day, it was something new,” said Watson. “From the sewer, from the boiler, to the gas—you name it. There was no job that was identical. And that was very fascinating, to wake up and not know what’s going to happen today, but knowing that it was going to be exciting.
“Up to this day, there’s never two jobs that are the same.”
Watson eventually built his confidence by completing jobs on his own, as directed by the plumber who was his boss, which signaled to him that it was time to start something of his own with his desire to help Harlemites.
“I wanted to push the name,” said Watson. “I wanted the tradition. I wanted dad to feel proud of me.”
Watson first got business through the help of his uncle, who managed buildings in Harlem in the 1980s.
“This trade, once you learn it, you will not beg for bread for the rest of your life,” Watson said his uncle told him.
This business initially started as Watson’s Piping and Heating in 1996 because he didn’t have a plumbing license yet. In order to take the exam, he had to work under a licensed plumber for 10 years. When he passed the exam in 2010, he still had to go before a board and undergo background checks, which took three years. He just changed the name to Watson’s Plumbing and Heating a year ago.
Watson calls plumbing the most important business in construction. There’s always a need, and he feels that young men, in particular men of color, need to seek out the so-called blue-collar trade that can generate not-so-blue-collar income.
“If you know what you’re doing, it’s quick money,” said Watson. “And there’s always work. It really is the best kept secret for a young man’s success to have a trade … in particular the plumbing trade. It’s the best kept secret for people who don’t go to college.”
Watson’s faith started with his grandmother putting the fear of God in him in a good way. She was constantly reminding him not to run the streets with his friends because he was set up to do something “special.” As he got older, the thoughts of faith and God intensified, especially when he lost his job back in Montreal. Watson told the AmNews that he ran away from it as an adult because he felt he wasn’t smart enough or ready to handle such a responsibility, but it caught up to him eventually.
“It was 2005,” said Watson. “Right at St. James Presbyterian Church, I went there to support someone who was getting ordained. I did some church seminars and stuff like that. I was really involved in the church, just not as a pastor.
“When my aunt and—I think—five other people were getting ordained, they asked me to be one of the ushers for it,” continued Watson. “So I did the ushering, and then I sat down and watched the ordination. The bishop at the time said, ‘I know we did five ordinations, but there’s one person here—and God told me this, it’s in my spirit—that needs to be ordained.’ He said, ‘Young man, it’s you. God is calling you.’ From that day to now, I am convinced. I’ve seen the miracles.”
One of those miracles includes assisting in the renovation of a church months before his surprise ordination. He’s now in his eighth year as the founder and senior pastor of Crown of Life Love Ministries.
From Jamaica to Montreal to New York. From plumber to pastor. How would Watson sum up his life if he had to put it in one sentence?
“Stepping out in faith,” said Watson.