Portrait of Kenny Holdsman ’89

Kenny Holdsman ’89 co-founded Philadelphia Youth Basketball in 2015 and is currently serving as president and CEO.

Kenny Holdsman ’89 Empowering Community Through Philadelphia Youth Basketball

The founder of Philadelphia Youth Basketball hopes to empower youth through education and basketball. The organization is focused on building critical thinking skills and a love of learning.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

After graduating from Lehigh as an economics major and an urban studies and Jewish studies minor, Kenny Holdsman ’89 earned his law degree from Temple University and became a lawyer at Ballard Spahr, one of Philadelphia’s largest law firms.

But Holdsman didn’t feel emotionally connected to his work.

“I was practicing law, I was comfortable,” he says. “I just never felt a full-enough sense of purpose about my work.”

Holdsman grew up hearing firsthand about the struggles of students in the Philadelphia School District from his mother, a teacher and then-guidance counselor in the district, and had never stopped thinking about disparity, social justice and racial equity. Two first-year classes he took at Lehigh—Creative Utopia, and Insight, Outlook and Control— also had stoked his idealism and fueled his curiosity, he says.

He decided he wanted to make more of an impact in his community.

Holdsman left the law firm and joined the Philadelphia School District, building a citywide youth leadership and service learning program. He then focused on national projects with the Academy for Educational Development, now known as AED, for six-and-a-half years.

After a stop as CEO of Legacy Youth Tennis and Education, formerly Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education, he co-founded Philadelphia Youth Basketball (PYB) in 2015, currently serving as president and CEO. The organization offers programs centered around basketball that also feature at least one “off-court” curriculum hour per program session. He is overseeing an expansion that includes a $58 million campus in North Philadelphia that will allow the organization to increase the number of youth it serves per year from 1,200 to nearly 6,000.

“We're really trying to help young people build critical-thinking skills and habits of mind to build personal identity, a love of learning and the ability to make positive relationships with peers and adults,” he says. “And at the core of our programming is always culturally relatable, well-trained coach mentors. That's our superpower.”

The organization offers seven different neighborhood programs through 20 schools and four recreation centers, serving youth in grades 5 through 12. Kids enroll in either 10- or 20-week programs, which are free, and the organization accepts applicants until all available spots are filled. Summer camps typically reach capacity about a week after they’re posted online.

The curriculum components include civic dialogue, journaling, personal identity formation, nutrition and healthy meals and academic support, Holdsman says. The content is often timely and covers social topics in sports. The organization consistently uses The Players Tribune, a media platform for first-person stories from professional athletes, founded by Baseball Hall of Famer and former New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, and has had the children read, write about and discuss more than 100 articles on site.

“Our students aren't lined up in neat rows with a teacher lecturing from the front,” Holdsman says.

In addition to talented staff members that attendees relate to, Holdsman says he’s proud of the deep commitment PYB has had to racial equity and Black empowerment. He notes that PYB has 26 Black-owned and 11 female-owned professional service firms contracted.

On Jan. 18, 2024, PYB plans to formally unveil its biggest project yet: The Alan Horwitz “Sixth Man” Center.

The 100,000-square-foot center, referred to as “A Center for Community Empowerment” by PYB, will contain four classrooms, seven basketball courts, a financial literacy workshop, a healthy foods cafe, strength and conditioning, a mental wellness oasis and a museum of Philadelphia basketball history and culture, among other features. Its Nicetown neighborhood location was chosen specifically for its close proximity to residential communities and public transportation, but also major roadways.

“It will be the most comprehensive and impactful and transformative physical space for young people in the entire country,” Holdsman says.

Next year, PYB is scheduled to begin phase two of the expansion about 40 feet away from The Alan Horwitz “Sixth Man” Center, which will focus on workforce development, entrepreneurship and economic opportunity. It is slated to be completed in the winter of 2026.

Read about more of Lehigh's community of Future Makers here.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

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