The PYB staff team has begun a series of conversations about our essential mission and purpose. This work has been fueled by the thought leadership of Simon Sinek, author of several books including “Start with Why.” Sinek argues with persuasion and passion that any organization trying to make scalable impact must first articulate its “why” before answering the important questions of the “what” and “how.”

As one of PYB’s co-founders and a member of its board and staff team, I have been obsessed with this question of why since gathering at my dining room table over four years ago with co-founders Eric Worley, Doug Young, Alvin Williams, and Steve Rosenberg. We grappled with the topic extensively with our board of directors two years ago in a Strategic Planning process lead by board member David Gould. This month our staff team is digging in and next month our board will do so in a retreat facilitated by board member, Nadya Shmavonian. Yes, we are continually examining this question and sharpening our answer.

I care deeply about young people, especially those from lower-income communities of color. The combination of under-funded and under-performing schools, families living in fragile circumstances, dangerous neighborhoods, and the hopelessness, which is associated with poverty, creates conditions that are extremely challenging for children to thrive. As compared to the “coming of age” experience of children from middle and upper-middle income families, the disparities are dramatic and the struggle is real.

My observations, having grown up in the diverse community of Cheltenham, done policy and community work in Washington D.C. and many other American cities, and worked in Philadelphia’s education and youth development communities for 15 years, are that young people who manage to overcome these circumstances have some common characteristics:

  • They have a parent or guardian who provides unconditional love and insists on effort and accountability;
  • They have meaningful relationships with other adults (teachers, coaches, mentors, relatives) who become influential in their lives;
  • They are immersed in a pursuit (a sport, the arts…) which is well-organized, lead by capable and caring adults who are skilled youth development practitioners, provides a peer group that pushes and supports one another to be their best, individually and collectively, and helps them acquire a belief that they have valued, voice, and visibility;
  • They have developed a strongly held belief that their education and other learning opportunities matter greatly and must be prioritized, even if that means “cutting against the grain of what is considered popular or cool;” and
  • They have opportunities to visualize what is possible and achievable through immersions on college campuses, with other young people from different circumstances, and in other communities in the United States and perhaps internationally.

Philadelphia Youth Basketball is creating the conditions for young people to access these elements. Simply put, we are providing opportunities for young people to realize their potential and transform their lives. That is the “why” of PYB and everyday we are building an organization, a program, and soon a center to make it happen in deep and enduring ways for thousands of deserving young people.

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