Illustrated Sports and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of black women through sports, from veteran athletes to rising stars, coaches, executives and more, in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
It’s amazing when things just fit together.
As vice president of charitable affairs for the Lakers, Kiesha Nix is one of the most powerful women in the sport of philanthropy. When she was first promoted from executive director of the Community Lakers Youth Foundation to her current office, NBA legend Magic Johnson called to congratulate her personally. “I was in the middle of a call from Zoom to plan a community holiday event when his name appeared on my phone. I hardly answered the call, “he says. But he did, and she heard him say, “Hello, Miss Vice President.”
“I had to pinch myself,” says Nix.
Nix had never actively pursued a career in community relations or fundraising, but the vocation seemed to haunt her. She and Johnson had partnered at community events for more than a decade since they first crossed paths when Nix was working for Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. “I started at the bottom of the totem nearly 30 years ago as a project manager at Merrill Lynch, and when I left, I was negotiating contracts on behalf of Bank of America after the merger of the two institutions.”
She also managed investments for several CEOs and other high-net-worth clients and was comfortable in her official role as a financial advisor. Still, others were captivated by Nix’s unique footprint of leveraging wealth management to maximize social impact. She volunteered thousands of hours with the bank’s charitable foundation, raising money, producing events, and building relationships. “It wasn’t part of my normal daily job responsibilities, but I did that job for 18 years,” he says. “I saw it as a way to bridge the gap between our clients and the kids in South Central, Watts and Compton because that’s where I grew up.”
Nix says she was content to work in finance until a colleague told her about a position in the community relations department, but taking the job meant she would have to take a big pay cut as well. “I was a single mother, without support, and my son was going to college. Taking a pay cut didn’t make sense, ”he says.
One of her mentors stepped in to convince her to take the colossal career move, telling her that if she didn’t, she would never end up where she wanted to be. “I gave a leap of faith and I did it,” he said. “I will never forget it, my boss at that time told me: ‘If you do this job well, people will come looking for you.’
His first assignment was managing the bank’s relationship with the Dodgers, then USC, various museums, and other high-profile partners. The bank was only investing a few million dollars when it started. She increased that to $ 25 million before leaving.
Nix developed a reputation for trust, respect, and compassion, all critical values for strong leadership. People were talking about her, so when Lakers president Jeannie Buss called Lon Rosen, the Dodgers executive vice president, looking for someone to lead the Lakers foundation, Rosen didn’t hesitate to recommend Nix.
“They called me on Monday and I already had a whole new race for Friday,” says Nix. Now, she is the first black woman to be named vice president within the Lakers organization.
“I often tell the young people I mentor that the people who have helped me along the way don’t always look like me. Lon is Jewish, ”he says. “He is a very respected man in sports. He didn’t have to recommend me, but he knew my work ethic. Hard work is the great equalizer. “
Her rapid promotion from CEO to vice president was not a surprise. Because the Lakers already enjoyed a strong, supportive positive presence in the community, Nix set out to raise more money to do more for children. During its first year, it raised more than $ 400,000 in one afternoon at the foundation’s annual golf tournament, the most ever raised in the tournament’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic struck during its second year, and its fundraising fell short of a record. But the third year surpassed the first, and set a record in the fourth year, raising more than half a million dollars with the one-day event.
Nix says becoming vice president doesn’t require a lot of new learning, rather it requires her to be more available, but she has two priorities: continuing to increase the number of youth programs supported by the foundation and opening doors for more youth of color to reach positions. of direction.
“It is very important that young people see themselves in me. I want them to think beyond becoming the next Kobe or LeBron, ”he says. “I’ve never bounced a basketball in my life, but when I show up with my championship ring, they see that there are so many exciting career opportunities happening behind the scenes, from social media to esports.”
Nix is also committed to helping more women, and especially women of color, reach higher levels of leadership. “I think being the first black vice president here is exciting,” she says. “I once heard Jeannie Buss say when she became the first owner of a women’s team to win a championship that it’s okay to be first, but you can’t be the only one. I have adopted that mindset and am looking to help the next generation of leaders take my place. “
Nix’s own experience does not mean advantages, but it is relentlessly positive and fully motivated. “A big part of my story is that I became a single mother at 24, but my son Tyler and I were able to accomplish a lot together,” she says, adding that they both made great sacrifices and faced challenges while raising Tyler. in South Central, but that she wouldn’t change any of that. “I used to take my son to work and let him crawl around my desk when I couldn’t find childcare. Twenty-four years later, he graduated from Fisk University and works in one of my old offices managing high net worth people, athletes and artists for a living. “
Looking back, she marvels at the twists and turns her personal and professional life took, but believes she had to walk that path to be where she is today.
“Jeannie Buss would never have called Merrill Lynch looking for the person she needed. He called Lon to the Dodgers, who told him to call me, “Nix says. “Those steps just made everything fall into place.”
Madelyne Woods is a contributor to Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform that celebrates the stories and transformative power of sports for black women and girls.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.