(WLAX/WEUX) – Many know Cynthia “Cynt” Marshalls as the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, the woman hired to help turn around the culture of the organization. In doing so, she became the first black, female CEO in the NBA. As jenny Anchondo reports, she’s been breaking barriers her entire life.

Cynt said, “My mother always put a math book in one hand and a bible in another and said if you keep your head in these two books, you’ll get out and I didn’t realize what she meant out of and later I realized it was out of poverty.”

Cynt’s family left Birmingham Alabama when she was three months old, an effort to escape the Jim Crow South. But life in the bay area of California, in the projects, wasn’t easy.

“When I was 11 years old, some chaos broke out in our family, and I saw my father actually shoot a man in the head. He had approached our house and he had to shoot back in self-defense because I was standing on my father’s right side and he pulled out a pistol and pointed it at my father’s right side, at me,” said Cynt.

The man survived, but Cynt never forgot it. She sought a “way out” and set her sights on leadership. At her sisters’ graduation, she noticed the only speakers were white boys.

Cynt said, “I was in the 9th grade and I said can a black girl be Sr. Class President? Can a black girl be Student Body President? She said of course you can do anything you want to do. And I said ok I got to get one of my buddies, I found out that had never happened before.”

Cynt became the first African American President at her school.

“It was historic and the faculty was more emotional than I was and we’ve been blazing trails ever since then,” said Cynt.

Cynt was the first black cheerleader at Berkley and the first African American Delta Gama at the school. Yet, even at almost 40 years old, she found herself not being accepted for who she was.

When offered a position as an officer at AT&T, she initially turned it down. Her boss asked her to change everything from her hair to her verbiage.

Cynt said, “When you fundamentally try to change who I am when you tell me I can say blessed when you tell me I’m too loud, you’re actually telling me you don’t want me to be a black woman.”

AT&T did reverse course and she took the job.

Now, as CEO of the Mav’s, tasked with transforming the culture, she’s making sure nobody else experiences that.

“If nothing else, I’m proud of the speak-up culture we have. Our people have a voice. The level doesn’t matter. I had a meeting with every single person in the organization when I got there,” said Cynt.

And for Black History Month, Cynt says it’s a time to be proud but also realize there’s more work to do.

Cynt said, “We have got to embrace all cultures and February is the month we do that and embrace the black culture and see what more has to be done and it’s a time when the whole nation gets to do that.”

She encourages every company, every family to take this month to recognize and learn about the significance of the contributions black people have made to this country.

In Dallas, Jenny Anchondo, reporting.

Cynt says while she believes this country is the greatest place on the planet, if we want to make sure this is a great place to work and live for all, we must, as a nation, do a gap analysis regularly, to see where we’re doing well and where we’re falling short.