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How Kenyan DJ Poizon Ivy is blazing trails for women in music

In 2020, Ivy Awino, better known as DJ Poizon Ivy, was named on the distinguished Forbes 30 under 30 list.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya and raised in Dallas, Texas, Ivy is the official DJ for the Dallas Mavericks – making her the team’s first female DJ in history, and is the 2nd female DJ in the NBA.

As one of the most sought after DJs in America’s Midwest, Ivy has worked for many major brands including Atlantic Records, Red Bull and Adidas, and nonprofits such as Snoop Dogg’s Youth Football League and Obama for America.

Ivy is also a fervent advocate for women and girls, and devotes much of her time to causes focused on female empowerment.

In this interview we talk to DJ Poizon Ivy about her journey as a Kenyan in America who has risen to great success in her field, how she has maneuvered as a woman in a male-dominated field, and advice she’d give her young women counterparts.

Has being a Kenyan woman living and growing up in America had any challenges? 

Ivy: When I first moved here at the age of nine, I remember standing in the mirror and practicing losing my accent. That was the first challenge, but that was as a child. And, you know, I really did it… Because kids are cruel. However, in my adulthood, I honestly don’t see that being a Kenyan woman living and growing up in America has had too many challenges beyond the expected. I am a child of immigrants, and so being raised by an immigrant mother has stereotypical characteristics. When you go to school, they tell you to look your teacher in the eye. You go home, your parents chastise you for looking them in the eye. So, beyond the obvious cultural variances, I honestly haven’t experienced too much difficulty. As a matter of fact, as I’ve grown up, I honestly have embraced my cultural heritage and I believe that has substantially enriched the woman that I have been, I am and I’m becoming. I really just credit honoring my culture and heritage for all of that. 

On the flip side, how has your Kenyan heritage given you the drive and prowess to become the powerhouse success you are today? 

Thank you kindly for that. I very much consider myself a work in progress, but I humbly accept the kind words and have learned to pat myself on the back along the way… Period. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Period. 

I will say, again, that my heritage, especially in recent years, has been one to celebrate. I mean, who gets to say that they are from the same tribe, and of the same origin as: the first black president of the United States, former President Barack Obama; Oscar award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o; comedic sensation Elisa Majimbo….We are dominant people, and I take a lot of pride in that. I definitely channel all that energy, and hopefully I’m able to continue to live up to that legacy. 

What are the personal strengths you have had to embody and master to become a Black woman in a male-dominated industry? 

Ivy: Honestly, the first is the strength to be yourself. I’m not trying to be part of the counterculture. I’m not trying to purposely disrupt. I’m not trying to be anything other than who I know myself to be. So, if that means I am disrupting a male-dominated industry, then so be it… That was not my intention. My intention was to fully live up to God’s promises for me. And, as I’ve done so, I’ve realized that I’m making a mark. I have become more intentional about embodying certain strengths… The ability to speak up for not only myself, but for others. Self advocacy is such a necessary skill to have. The desire to go against the grain… I think a lot of times it’s really easy to be in spaces and places where you may feel as though you are a minority, and just embody that happy-to-be-there energy. I’m definitely not that, and I can say I’ve gotten very comfortable in being uncomfortable – and that’s a new personal strength. 

Black women specifically, in general society, endure so much. We recently witnessed the questioning of the first Black female supreme court judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and even something as basic as saying her name correctly seemed to be a problem. Poise. Patience… Gosh, it’s hard to find an adjective to accurately describe what it takes to be a Black woman in the world, let alone in America, let alone in male-dominated industry. That might be a new adjective that we have to invent.

What has been your greatest challenge on this journey to success, and how did you overcome it?

Ivy: I will say that very early on I began to evangelize about African music – the early editions of Afrobeats. It was really just because it was a sound and a feeling that I loved, and wanted so badly to share with the masses. But, I quickly found myself hitting walls at every turn, whether it was at radio, or trying to pitch to labels. I think the frustrating part about all of that is that nobody else can really see your vision other than yourself. So, I got really frustrated, because I could not convince others to see this opportunity from my viewpoint. Ultimately, at times I let it get to me, but I preserved and now I look like the smartest woman in the room. I learned that patience truly is a virtue. So, I would say, one of the greatest difficulties is mastering patience, to be honest, and knowing that all things work together in perfect timing. As human beings we desire that perfect timing to be on our clock, but the universe tells us otherwise. So, it’s a matter of – how much do you believe in something to be as patient as that thing needs for it to come to fruition?

What is the impact you want to make in your work with young women? 

Ivy: The impact that I would like to make on young women is to be a living, breathing example of – if you can see it, you can be it. I think that young women need to be encouraged to create spaces for themselves rather than looking for spaces in which to fit. I truly hope that that is my legacy. I created space not only for myself, but for posterity. 

If you could send one message to other young women who have also journeyed to the US with their families from Africa, who may feel out of place or disconnected, what would that be? 

Ivy: You are an original queen. You hail from the Motherland. You hail from the birthplace and the cradle of humanity. Instead of embodying an inferiority complex, I would much rather you adopt a superiority complex. Do not let anyone, and I repeat, ANYONE, make you feel lesser than. Most of us are from what they refer to as third world countries, but in whose eyes, is what you should be asking yourself. Who gets to dictate where you come from and what that means for you? The answer to that is, no one but you. So, live in your glory and definitely know that home is also ready to welcome you back. So, get what you need and go back. However, while you are here, don’t ever let anyone dim your light, because it shines so bright. Even on the darkest of days and even when it is dim, a light still shines.

What can we look forward to from the brand and persona DJ Poizon Ivy?

Ivy: Oh man… a lot of evolution. A lot of change. As usual, a lot of inspiration and fun, and a lot of intentional change. I honestly just say this is a great time to learn about me and keep up with me, as I’m about to take myself and everyone else on an incredible journey. So, for those of you who have been with me for a while, thank you for your support. For those of you who are meeting me for the first time: Hello. Buckle up. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Visit DJ Poizon Ivy online at www.poizonivythedj.com | @poizonivythedj

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