From a young age, Babalu Tapas & Tacos General Manager Justin Courson knew the restaurant business was a good fit.

At 16, he began his career working at his uncle’s Fratesi’s as a dishwasher. Even through college at Mississippi State University, studying forestry and wildlife management, restaurants were his vocation. So much so, working his way through school as a line cook influenced a change of major – to food, nutrition and dietetics.

Two and half years later, Courson would continue his culinary schooling at Hinds Community College while bartending at The Macaroni Grill in north Jackson. He was offered a management position there.

Later, Courson would work as the culinary manager and assistant general manager at Bonefish Grill. At Babalu since July 2013, Courson began as assistant manager, and, a little over two years ago, was named general manager.

Today, settling firmly into his career, “people person,” father and sports enthusiast Courson is looking for ways to give back, fundraising this month for the American Cancer Society’s “Real Men Wear Pink” Campaign.

“So many members of my family and so many friends have been touched by cancer,” Courson says. He lost his father three years ago to pancreatic cancer (both of his father’s parents also died of cancer) and has an aunt who survived breast cancer. “It’s touched my life so much, from childhood to now.”

Last year, Babalu’s sister restaurant, Table 100 in Flowood, hosted a “Wear Pink” kickoff party where Nathan Delaware, past Babalu general manager, was a candidate. Delaware nominated Courson.

“He knew I enjoyed raising awareness and using Babalu as the vehicle — it’s a behemoth,” Courson says. “When Babalu speaks, people listen. I’m in a unique position to take it on and keep the ball rolling.”

In a collaboration with retailer Kendra Scott, Courson’s daughter, 7-year-old Eva Claire, created a necklace that will also help raise funds for cancer. It’s the kind of lessons Courson is teaching her at a very early age.

“Life is about helping others,” he says, “and trying to be the best version of yourself to do that.”

Enjoy the “Pink Patio Party” at Babablu on October 11. One hundred percent of the proceeds from Babalu’s Pink Senorita Cocktail and their Pink Parfait dessert sold will be donated to help with breast cancer research for the local American Cancer Society chapter. Enjoy light appetizers, live music by Kerry Thomas, and a silent auction on the patio.