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If you’ve ever seen Kash Cannon on the basketball court, there is no hesitation. A high school standout in Rhode Island and a 1,000-point scorer at Northeastern University, she set the Huskies single-season record for 3-pointers made during her senior campaign while shooting a blistering 40.8 percent beyond the arc.
But when the Boston Celtics approached Cannon about an opportunity in their community engagement department two years ago, Cannon hesitated.
"I was unsure because I wasn't familiar with the Celtics organization the way I am now, and I wasn't sure if it was going to be surface-level work,” said Cannon, who had been working with the local nonprofit, Shooting Touch, at the time. "I come from a nonprofit world that is on the ground every day, really interacting with the community and the kids. That’s what I wanted to continue to do.
"I did my research, I talked to [Celtics vice president of community engagement] Dave Hoffman, who’s just incredible, and he assured me that this is not surface-level work. We’re not going to schools and putting green T-shirts on kids and telling them to smile. It’s actually addressing needs at the root cause.”
The 30-year-old Cannon has quickly emerged as a superstar in her role as senior coordinator of community engagement. Even in this Zoom-heavy, socially-distanced world, she’s managed to connect with countless kids and serve as a role model for the next generation.
"I feel like it's my purpose in life, and my passion in life, to just continue that cycle of impact and be there for someone who may need someone at the time,” said Cannon. "I was unsure when I was first got offered the job but then I thought, I could be a face of this powerful brand. And what would that do for young Black girl who sees me or anyone else? And so it was just an opportunity I couldn't pass up, not just for myself and my family but for the young girls that are coming up behind me.”
Cannon’s impact is obvious to others in the organization, who gush about her contagious energy and an ability to connect with her audience.
"I think empathy is at the core of it,” said Hoffman, who has helmed Boston’s community efforts since 2010. "She has such a unique prism to view the world through. She truly cares so much about others. When you couple that with such a strong work ethic, genuine humility, superhero talents as an educator and youth development agent, you get Kash. Give her access to a brand like the Celtics and the possibilities for impact become limitless.”
Cannon, as a young Black female, understands the power and responsibility that comes with her position.
"There's a lot of kids who don't see people who look like them in positions of power, in positions of leadership, and representation does matter,” said Cannon. “So it's important to send them that message and to cultivate truly genuine and authentic relationships with our young people because they don't care what you know, until they know that you care, right? We want to really make sure we emphasize that message. And when we have them at our clinics and we have them participating in our program, we just want to interact with them in an authentic way and make sure that they know we're here for them. We're not here just to run a program. We try and emphasize the true point of what we're doing and that's to grow them as leaders and as people and be there to support them and anything that they want to do."
When Cannon’s community efforts were spotlighted by MassLive in October, Allison Feaster, a former Harvard standout who played 10 years in the WNBA and now serves as the Celtics director of player development and organizational growth, offered notable praise.
“There are not a lot of faces that look like hers, ours, in professional basketball,” said Feaster. “It’s very important to socialize, as early as we can, that the keepers and the holders of knowledge and expertise are not always a homogenous group of people… the fact that she is leading those groups of early learners, that really is a culture-building piece.”
Cannon was blown away by Feaster’s words and now has the quote framed inside her home.
“It means a lot because she is a role model to me,” said Cannon. "Having Allison at the Celtic organization not only helped me but other women in the organization who look like me, and she's just been incredible, taking us under her wing.
"Just seeing her in this senior leadership position, it means a lot. And it's really inspiring to say the least. … She's a huge mentor. And she's really great at elevating — elevating all of us, elevating other women who look like her, and really just blazing a path that we're excited to follow.”
Cannon credits her grandmother’s impatience for helping her find her basketball passion.
"I started playing [basketball] when I was nine,” said Cannon. "It was kind of on accident. I was getting on my grandmother's nerves. She was watching me at the time. And so she was like, 'Look, I gotta get this girl out of the house.’ So she walked me down to the local rec center [in Providence]. And she said, 'Go play.’ And so I picked up the basketball, made some new friends, and I really fell in love with the game ever since then.”
Cannon’s father both taught his daughter the intricacies of the game and woke her up at 5 a.m. for shooting contests and free-throw work before school. Weekends were for AAU tournaments and basketball showcases. A high school star in the Ocean State, Cannon earned a scholarship to Northeastern, where she was an All-Colonial Athletic Association third-teamer in her senior season while averaging 13.4 points per game.
Her job with the Celtics allowed her to combine two of her passions. And a brighter spotlight on racial inequalities has allowed the Celtics to put a greater focus on topics that really matter to Cannon.
"Because of all the injustices and everything that's come to the limelight in the past year or so, even though it's been going on for hundreds of years, we started the Boston Celtics United initiative as an organization,” said Cannon. "So from ownership to front-office staff, we're all working on this initiative towards addressing racial injustices and social inequities. And so I'm really proud of the work that we're doing.
"And I joke with Dave that we are now a social-justice organization. And I'm really proud of that. The work that we're doing there is really intentional. We, as an organization, did a ton of information gathering, met with community leaders and experts, and really tried to figure out and hone in on what are the major systemic issues that are plaguing us right now? And how do we as an organization use our resources and our assets and our brand and platform to address these inequities at the root level? And so it's great work being done across the board throughout the entire organization, and I'm really proud to be a part of it.”