Dallas Mavericks BHM: Inside Story of First Black Female DJ in the NBA
In the first installment (two more coming) of my Black History Month series, we go 1-on-1 with the Dallas Mavericks DJ: DJ Poizon Ivy. The first black female DJ in NBA history.
As I made my way up the lower part of the arena to the in-arena DJ booth at American Airlines Center, I couldn’t help to notice a backwards snap back and long flowing locks coming from behind the booth.
I eventually made my way over to the booth only to be greeted by the biggest smile and southern hug that brought back memories of my childhood days in Kentucky. We laughed and cut up as she showed me the ins and outs of what exactly a NBA DJ does.
It was my first time meeting Ivy Awino and over the next 45 minutes, it felt like we had known each other our whole lives. But we obviously hadn’t. In fact, we couldn’t have came from two more opposite of backgrounds.
“I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya before I moved to Dallas when I was 9 years old,” Awino said.
Awino made the move from Kenya to Dallas, Texas in 1999 where she would coincidentally enough, start her relationship with the Dallas Mavericks from a very young age. In fact, Awino started off as a ball kid for the Mavericks when she was 12 years old.
“I did start off as a ball kid at 12. I have literally grown up in this building. LITERALLY,” Awino said. “I was talking to DA [Darrell Armstrong] the other day…he was still playing when I was a ball kid. I saw Fin, Najera, all these guys.”
Awino would go on to be a ball kid for the Mavericks for 6 years, but her dreams and goals of being in the NBA were just beginning. She would go on to attend The Hockaday School in Dallas where she began to set goals for herself that wasn’t normal for every high school girl.
“Initially I wanted to be the first female commissioner in the NBA…in high school we had to do a junior research paper and my paper was on the commercialization of college sports,” Awino said.
I called her a nerd and we shared a good laugh over that. I mean what high school girl wants to be the commissioner of the NBA?
Awino would eventually go on to attend Marquette University around the same time as Wesley Matthews, Jimmy Butler, and Jae Crowder. “I went to Marquette and it was perfect. I had the basketball program right there.”
Just like her high school days, Awino kept the dream alive when she got to college.
When other people were writing about normal research topics, Awino “wrote about the lack of female executives in the NBA. Everybody is writing about curing all types of stuff and building all types of stuff and here I was about how there is not enough women in the front offices,” Awino said as we shared a laugh.
Awino’s second job in the NBA (counting her ball kid days in Dallas) was with the Milwaukee Bucks for three years. But when she interviewed for the DJ job for the Bucks and was turned down, she contemplated leaving it all behind.
“I worked for the Bucks for three years. I actually auditioned for the DJ job for the Bucks. Its crazy how God works, I found out I didn’t get the job the same day one of my mentors passed away. One of the worst days in my life, I literally almost quit.”
Thank God she didn’t quit.
Now Ivy Awino, AKA DJ Poizon Ivy, is a trail blazer for the millions of young, black women growing up around the world.
I asked Awino point blank, “When I say, Ivy Awino is the first black woman DJ in NBA history, what is your instant reaction?” After a short pause soaking it in, Awino simply responded with “I am just a 26 year old girl from Nairobi, Kenya and I just followed my heart…it’s not about being first, I want to be the best.”
Being the first in this business means a lot to Awino, but to her, being the best is her number one goal. “I just want to be great man,” Awino said.
In being the first black woman in this field, Awino recognizes the significance of it also. “In today’s day and age, it means a lot. I never thought that I would live to see some of the things we see in present day America.”
We also talked about the target on her back now. In a unfair way, being the first black woman in this position, people will judge others behind her based on the job that she does. “When you are the token one, it’s tricky…it’s a lot of pressure,” Awino said.
— TheSmokingCuban (@thesmokingcuban) February 12, 2017
When Awino came back to Dallas from Milwaukee, she became the official DJ of the Dallas Wings and for Skylar Diggins’ traveling basketball tour. As far as working for the Mavericks, that didn’t happen on the first try.
“A friend encouraged me to email the Mavs and let them know I was interested in working with them. I did, but at the time they said no. I could have been bummed, but at least in my heart I knew I let them know I was interested. Two months later, I got a call from them.”
Awino DJ’d her first game as the official DJ of the Dallas Mavericks on October 3rd, a preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets. Now, over halfway into the Mavericks season, her favorite thing about the job is still the same thing.
“You see the people in this building…I love people. I do this for the people.”
Speaking of the people in the building, many of the thousands of fans in the AAC don’t know who Ivy Awino even is. But DJ Poizon Ivy is a different story. So how did she get the nickname Poizon Ivy?
“My real name is Ivy. Kids used to kid me all of the time, poison ivy makes me itch ohhh don’t touch me,” Awino said. “So when I was looking for a DJ nickname, I couldn’t fathom going by a nickname that is not my name…I was like Poison Ivy, Batman, ok. Little superhero situation, comic book character, she kind of dope.”
— TheSmokingCuban (@thesmokingcuban) February 12, 2017
We then took our conversation to the good stuff and one of the main reasons I am writing this Black History Month series in the first place.
“When you see ‘Black History Month’ on the players’ warmup shirts or hear the term ‘Black History Month’, what comes to mind?”, I asked.
“It’s time to celebrate black history and achievements, those who weren’t always given credit. Those are the type of things I want to celebrate: Achievements that are for equality,” Awino said.
“I think we need to celebrate our differences,” Awino said in regards to our different cultures. But at the same time, recognize we are all inhabitants of this same Earth.
“I’m at a point in my life now where we need to see past skin color. All it is, is pigmentation. It’s a little melanin here, or lack there of. If I cut you and cut me, our blood is the same.”
So what about cultures outside of the African American culture that might not understand the differences. Whether they are blinded by their privilege or their upbringing, what would you tell a young kid that is not a part of the African American culture that is growing up in this America?
Awino, with a smile on her face out of gratitude for bringing this subject to light, responded with advice she gives to her little cousin all of the time.
“We are all the same, but we are not.”
Awino would go on to describe her upbringing in a private school here in Dallas. She was one of nine black girls out of 122 in her graduating class, but there was no racial animosity. They were all friends. It’s about the choices we make as individuals.
“History has it to where if you and I were dating and we walk into a store, it’s different. That’s because of other people, their perception, their upbringings. It’s not surprising, but let’s not continue through that. It’s up to us,” Awino said.
“I would just say, let’s break the cycle,” Awino said. “It’s up to us moving forward.”
— Isaac Harris (@IsaacHarrisNBA) February 12, 2017
My last question centered around one thing, what advice would you give to a young, black girl growing up in America with big dreams like you have?
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“I would tell her that, it’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible. So strap up your boots, tighten up your shoes. Tighten it all up, your mind. It’s kind of like you are trying to run through a brick wall, who says you can’t run through a brick wall? We have been told don’t do it so you don’t get hurt.”
In regards to their dreams, “The crazier the better, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
But when you achieve one of your dreams, it doesn’t stop there. Be the best you can be.
“You have to be excellent at what you do. You don’t want to make it on the merit of just being let through. You are going to hear that, it’s because you are a girl, because of this and that. Strive to be the best. Do everything you can so when you lay down at night, you made that day count. Make every day count. Make every hour count. Make every minute count.”
Ivy Awino, AKA DJ Poizon Ivy, is doing that exact thing, making every day count.
You can follow DJ Poizon Ivy on Twitter @poiZonivytheDJ and see her at every Dallas Mavericks home game as she drops all of the music and sound bites throughout the game.
Stay tuned as I highlight two more life stories within the Dallas Mavericks organization for my Black History Month series.