Joy Dennis – USC Beach Volleyball

“It’s actually kind of a funny story how I got into beach volleyball. I was 9 and I went to an AVP even though I didn’t want to go.  I was playing indoor volleyball at the time and I was like ‘I like indoor. There are people that look like me so that’s where I belong.’ I went and was watching this one match with Antoinette Davis and Jenny Johsnon Jordan. I was completely fascinated because they were two black players playing together.”

“When I was watching, Jenny Johnson Jordan came up to me and was like, ‘Hey how are you? Do you want to shag balls or sit on our bench?’ I was completely starstruck as a 9-year-old. She was so kind and she looked just like me. She was playing the sport and whooping everyone and I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like Jenny Johnson Jordan.’ Not only was she an incredible athlete, she was such a kind person and most importantly I’d never seen anyone Black who played beach volleyball before. She gave me footsteps to follow.”

“Beach volleyball is played in predominantly white neighborhoods so not a lot of Black athletes get involved in the sport. No one ever put me down in huge ways, but there were a lot of comments like ‘Of course you can jump high you’re black’ or ‘Why didn’t you play basketball or run track?’ I think those types of comments go away when we educate one another. I’ve been able to realize that ‘Hey, you may not know why this isn’t okay to say,  so rather than get upset with you I can try to help you understand.’”

“When I got to USC, everyone was expecting me to be this huge star and I felt like I disappointed a lot of people. I disappointed myself. I thought, ‘Was I overhyped? Was I not doing enough? I got in my own head and thought ‘I don’t understand why people are saying these things about me when I’m trying my best.’ People can be mean in beach volleyball and make comments about your body type, or the way you carry yourself off the court, and hearing that can be hard. I had to learn how to just kind of block it out and trust that I knew myself better than they did.”

“With all the issues going on recently I felt like I needed to fix it all. I got stressed out and realized that I had to take it slow and do what I could to address the problem. My team and the USC staff have been so great. We’ve decided that we’re going to get things done in house. If all 20 or 30 of us make changes, then take them to our personal groups of friends, then those changes are going to spread. If I can get a couple of people to be good allies and to stand up for someone else in a party when they hear something disrespectful, then we’ve driven change.  It may be a baby step, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

“The support has been amazing and it hasn’t just been within the team. It’s come from girls at UCLA, girls at Stanford. People are reaching out because I am one of the few Black people in this community. My team has always been there for me. I could scroll through the group message and click on a random number and be like ‘Hey I’m having a tough day,’ and know that person would drop everything to come help me. It’s an incredible feeling.”

“You should have seen me the day that they announced that the season was done and that I probably wouldn’t get a fifth year of eligibility. I was a wreck. I was crying on the phone to my mom and saying, ‘It’s over, it’s over.’ Coming back, I think I have the mentality that it’s probably the end of my volleyball career. This is my last chance. I ask myself: ‘How do I want to be remembered? How do I want to feel about myself when I’m done?’ If I put everything on the table, then I’ll be proud.”

“To anyone chasing a dream in sports, know that you can do it. Originally, I didn’t think I could do it. I was nine, but I was influenced by society to think that I didn’t fit. If anyone thinks like that, I want to smack it out of your mind so fast because you can do it and you will be great. Don’t let anything stop you just because you think that you don’t belong in a sport. You do belong. So, simply put, you can do it. I believe you can do it. I’m 100% certain that you can do it.”

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