1) What is your background in Philadelphia as a basketball player?
I was born and raised in the Germantown section of the city about a block away from a rec center; I was always a rec center kid. At the time I spent most of my days playing all different types of sports there. Early on, I became really attracted to basketball and started playing in all of the youth leagues around Philadelphia like Positive Image and Sonny Hill. I was a student-athlete at Central High School and was fortunate enough to continue my career as a 4-year collegiate student-athlete at West Chester University.
2) What motivated you to bring together Philadelphia leaders and initiate the creation of Philadelphia Youth Basketball?
The ideas around the PYB “Theory of Change” stemmed from the work that I did for my other organization, Philly Triple Threat. As I traveled around the country for different tournaments, I was exposed to different basketball organizations and facilities that were providing kids with the resources they desired and deserved. However, when I would come back to Philadelphia, it was evident that our city’s young people did not have the same access and opportunity especially when it related to holistic basketball development. One day a few years back, I visited the Legacy Tennis Center with now CEO of PYB, Kenny Holdsman. Seeing what was there for kids who want to play tennis, I immediately thought about why we need something comparable for young basketball players in our city, thus sparked the concept of Philadelphia Youth Basketball, Inc.
3) What similarities do you see between our student-athletes and yourself at that age?
I think part of it is just the love for the game. A lot of kids are drawn to this sport and when I see some of these young kids running around I think of myself as a child and get a little jealous. I’m sitting here at Jefferson University, a beautiful space with nice huge air conditioned gym, thinking about how these opportunities were not available to me as a kid, or at least I wasn’t aware of them. Never was I given the opportunity to not only play in a college gym as an 8th grader, but I never was expected to couple my on court skill development with academic training. Seeing our campers transition from our team concepts on court to then read about and debate socially relevant concepts and develop their youth voice is something new and game-changing in the lives of many of our young campers.
4) Do you ever shape programmatic elements based on your experiences as a young student-athlete?
I don’t shape the programmatic elements of PYB from my own experiences, but rather try to find the need and the niche in the Philadelphia basketball community. I believe that a lot of people are doing youth development in our city; some do it great, some not so great. I just try to identify and think of program elements based on the need. Our Middle School Partnership Program, from my experience as a school administrator, is so important because I always felt that the quality of the after-school programs was lacking at many schools. In regards to the Collegiate Summer Camp Series, giving access and opportunity for a lot of our kids to gain exposure to college at a young age and be surrounded by positive mentors is critical to their development and future life trajectory. That is more of what drives my ideas behind PYB program development.
5) How have you grown as a person and as a professional since starting at PYB?
The overall organization and elements that we have been exposed to over the past 3 years has been very enriching for me. I was telling someone the other day, “I feel like the last three years were similar to a Masters Degree or Doctorate Program for me in non-profit leadership.” Being able to ride shotgun to Kenny Holdsman for the past few years, seeing how he works from an organizational development standpoint, from a fundraising standpoint, seeing all of the great work of all of our team members in planning events, it has just been a phenomenal professional and personal growth experience. I have definitely added some great things to my toolbox as I continue down this road leading a premier non-profit organization.
6) Was there ever a time when you felt your work was validated by a story or experience of a PYB student-athlete?
Absolutely. One young lady, who was part of Middle School Partnership Program and was the only girl participating in the program at that particular school, was committed all year long. She drastically improved as a basketball player, and PYB was very instrumental in helping her transition from middle school to high school, where she was given the opportunity to attend Imhotep Charter School. She was on their girls basketball team her freshmen year and was excelling in the classroom. Her success made the entire organization very proud. Seeing some of our young people grow and develop as leaders during our time with them is probably my favorite experience. For example, our young people at Cooke Middle School, who we’ve been engaged with for the last 3 years, had trouble staying away from negative influences but after 3 years I have seen a profound change in the type of young leaders and student-athletes they have become. Instead of snack time conversation focused around school-yard quarrels, these students started to discuss high school and focus on what they needed in order to get in to certain schools. I wouldn’t say that we should take all of the credit, but I do feel that the relationships, exposure, and information PYB provided the kids definitely led them to making better choices and better positioned them to be successful student-athletes.
7) Which part of PYB’s mission drives you the most?
PYB is absolutely on a mission to build young people as students, athletes, and leaders. The biggest part for me is that it is providing access, exposure, and opportunity; things that would otherwise not be available to them if they were not involved with PYB. Those are three tenants that I lean my hat on.