Maurice A. Stinnett is no stranger to hard work. In fact, it’s the secret sauce that led him to where he is today. Born and raised in Springfield, Ohio to a single mother who dropped out of high school, he was determined to defy the odds, and carve a path for himself that spanned beyond the surroundings he was used to growing up. So Stinnett worked. And then worked some more. Then, after more than a decade of doing social impact work, and making significant strides to increase diversity and access to education for all, he just made history as the first Black man to be appointed as vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at an NBA team with BSE Global (parent company to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, NHL’s New York Islanders, and the Barclays Center). In his role, he is tasked with creating innovative programming tailored for inclusion and cultural competence. He also provides leadership and support across multiple BSE’s brands. Since stepping into the role, he has established BSE Global’s Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Engagement (D.I.C.E.) Council At-Large. Ahead, Stinnett speaks with ESSENCE to discuss the pressures and challenges of being a Black man in such a role and what’s next for the organization. You started your decade-long career in education. How did you end up at the Brooklyn Nets? I ended up with the Nets as a result of preparation meeting opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed my work in the nonprofit sector and higher education spaces, and over time, learned that I both particularly enjoyed and was talented at work that focused on diversity and inclusion. When presented with the opportunity to apply to work for a team in the NBA, which leads the way in men’s professional sports when it comes to developing inclusive hiring and management practices, I had to ‘shoot my shot.’ For one, I’m a basketball fan — but more importantly, the position has the platform and influence to reach a much broader and more diverse audience than any work I have done before. Within the sports entertainment world, there are so many levels at which we can shift the culture, spaces, and systems to be more inclusive for employees, fans, and community members. The potential impact of my work on a global stage was extremely compelling, so I had to take that leap. What does diversity and inclusion for an NBA team entail? Historically, women, LBGT+ people, people with disabilities, and people of color have occupied fewer and less powerful roles in the sports and entertainment industry. Our vision is to ensure we are looking everywhere to hire the greatest candidates, especially those who are traditionally underrepresented and giving each person the support and community needed for them to grow and shine in their career. Part of our work is acknowledging our less inclusive history while making strides to ensure our policies, practices, and systems move us toward greater inclusivity, and being accountable to keep growing in this area. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce and culture makes our company better able to respond to all of our fans’ wants and needs, more in-tune with the ever-evolving global marketplace, and a more intentional and responsive community member. It makes us stronger. Do you feel pressure, as the first Black man in this role? I don’t feel any pressure because I am standing on the shoulders of my ancestors who blazed the trail to get me here. I am supported by my beloved community who keep me humble, focused, and determined. And I have prepared and continue to educate myself to be intentional and impactful in my work. I would also be remiss not to mention the two Black women serving in this role for the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks, Nzinga Shaw and Gail O’Bannon, who paved the way in working in this role in the league. I do feel a great sense of responsibility. I have been given a unique opportunity to impact the culture and move the needle of diversity, inclusion, and equity in a positive direction for underrepresented groups in the sports and entertainment industry. I take it especially seriously given that Black men are more often seen on the court than in the executive suite, and it is imperative that our voices are heard in both spaces. It is a truly humbling and energizing experience, and I take the responsibility seriously. What took the organization so long to recognize the value in diversity and inclusion? BSE Global has valued and been committed to diversity and inclusion from its inception. Prior work in this area fell under the umbrella of our Human Resources department. With that said, as with any major corporation or organization, you must continuously assess and adjust to continue to meet the needs of your employees, community, and stakeholders. When BSE Global saw that there was potential for greater impact and a need for a central role that coordinated efforts in this area across departments, they acted with the intention to create a standalone position that focuses fully on inclusion and equity within the company. Building a culture of diversity, inclusion, and equity does not happen by chance. It requires time, work, and investment from the whole organization. BSE Global has shown they are deeply committed to this work by institutionalizing my role and empowering me to work across all facets of the organization. What’s been your biggest priority since you’ve joined BSE Global? Listening has been my biggest priority since joining BSE Global. Too often, professionals join an organization and focus on its deficits and try to immediately implement major changes. At BSE Global, I wanted to first take the time to speak directly with employees in all types of roles and levels within the organization to learn more about them and their priorities. This gave me the chance to learn about the organization’s strengths, areas of opportunity and growth, and sources of challenge or pain for employees. It also helped me to learn more about the organizational culture and how to design initiatives that are important to members of the organization and are delivered in a way that makes folks open to and interested in participating. What’s been your biggest challenge so far? The biggest challenge is managing my own expectations and excitement. When you see potential, you want to move right away. However, it’s important to move with intention, ensuring you listen to everyone’s voices and needs along the way. At times, I have to pause and remind myself that our work is strengthened the more we take the time to ensure that everyone understands and has bought into what we are doing.