We love seeing black women securing the bag and looking great while doing it, which is why we shout out three cheers for Deja Kelly. The University of North Carolina women’s basketball star has been chosen for the first-ever Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deal for global sportswear brand Actively Black. As part of the year-long partnership, the 20-year-old basketball phenom was featured in his official campaign video, in addition to becoming the official sponsor of Kelly’s Deja Kelly EmPOWERment Camp, a grassroots program founded to offer after-school workshops in Texas. schools and teach elementary and high school students the basics of basketball.
“For too long, female athletes – and especially black female athletes – have been an afterthought in the sports community. At Actively Black, black women are at the forefront of everything we do, so it was important that our first NIL athlete partnership was with a black woman,” says Lanny Smith, Founder of Actively Black, in an official press release sent to GU.
“Deja is an incredible talent with shared sensibilities rooted in empowerment and reinvestment in black communities. Actively Black represents the greatness of our DNA, and Deja is the perfect reflection of it. We could not have asked for a better partner as we enter this new chapter and we are honored to be part of its journey.
Ahead, check out Girls United’s chat with Kelly herself about how she got her start in basketball, partnering with Actively Black, and taking care of her mental health off and on the court.
Girls United: When did you first become interested in basketball?
Already Kelly: “I was introduced to basketball at age 3. My mum was a coach, so I grew up around the game. By age 9, I was obsessed and decided I really wanted to be awesome. At that point, my mom and I set my goals — McDonald’s All-American, State Championship, Jordan Brand All-American — and it was racing from there.
GU: How did the opportunity to partner with Actively Black come about?
Kelly: “The partnership was very organic. When they approached my agent to work together, I already knew the brand on social media and owned a few items myself. I have always admired the company’s mission and loved the high quality of the product. After meeting them I learned that the founder of the company is a fellow Texan and I actually played his niece in hoops growing up. It was a really genuine connection.
GU: In your opinion, why is it important that young black girls who play sports feel seen?
Kelly: “Throughout history, black women have made countless contributions to the world of sport. In the realm of the game, but also behind the scenes of the sports business. It is imperative that young black girls know that there is room for them in the industry and that they have adequate representation – so they know they are capable of achieving and realizing their dreams.
GU: Who are some of your main supporters who have been by your side, and who are some of your main inspirations?
Kelly: “My mother is my rock, that’s for sure. I draw my strength and my confidence from her. My little brother and my father are also great supporters that I draw on daily. In the end, my [aspiration] is to be a role model for the next generation of young women, so they can see a version of themselves and know that there is a path to achieve their dreams, no matter what they are.
GU: When you feel discouraged or feel a bit depressed, what do you do to take care of your mental health?
Kelly: “My mental health is a big priority for me. I find small ways to keep myself encouraged, but also to lean on my family as an outlet. I like to listen to my favorite albums (thanks to Drake), take me out to dinner or be pampered – little things like that. I always try to turn to my spiritual strength to focus on what is important.
GU: What do you think of the current representation of female basketball players?
Kelly: “While we still have a long way to go, I think NIL is starting to show the world the marketing firepower that female hoopers bring to the table. You see a lot of brands launching their NIL campaigns partnering with us and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s definitely our time.
About D’Shonda: Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, D’Shonda Brown is the associate editor of Girls United. When she’s not interviewing or writing, she enjoys running, dancing, shopping for sneakers and watching Lifetime movies.