Father and Son Kenn Hicks (L) and Ryan Hicks are recognized
for their non­profit organizations and accomplishments. (Courtesy photo)

Ryan Hicks had just wrapped another successful season of community partnerships with various NBA teams throughout the nation before jumping into his next high-profile sporting event, the Venice Beach Summer Showdown, a legendary competitive tournament that showcases the best of both professional and amateur basketball.

Working as a duo alongside his father, Kenn I. Hicks, known affectionately as the “Godfather of Street Ball,” to deliver a message of peace to sports fans, the Ballin’ for Peace co-founder is carrying on a legacy that proves community impact starts with a solid foundation at home.

The Venice Beach League/Venice Women’s League season opener kicks off June 15-16 with the International Summer Showdown Tournament on July 18-21.

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Early in the summer of 1979, Kenn I. Hicks and his family moved to California from New York. Being associated with organized sports all his life and noticing the absence of outdoor streetball in Southern California, he enlisted the support of his friends Bill Strayhorn and Mark Price to organize “The New Social Workers” in 1981, which sponsored several local holiday basketball tournaments.

Left to Right: Kenn Hicks, Pro Gupta, Kenyatta Hicks and Ryan Hicks are honored at an NBA halftime show. (Courtesy photo)

That year, as a transplant with an educational background from the HBCU Winston-Salem State University, he organized the first National Outdoor Basketball Championship in Venice Beach during Labor Day weekend.

The New Social Workers cited Venice Beach as an ideal location for the tournament because the area offered the perfect setting, drawing a large cross section of spectators who enjoyed watching a more exciting form of basketball while still maintaining high expectations from those who claimed to be the best.

Over the years the tournament grew in many ways. Teams from all over the country participated in five adult divisions and seven youth divisions, with more than 1,500 participants from pre-college to NBA players.

“I had hands-on experience that included filming the games at a young age,” said Ryan Hicks. “I had a chance to videotape Kobe Bryant playing at Venice Beach when he was 18 years old and before I was even a teenager.”

The tournament ran for more than 20 years before the Venice Basketball League took its place.

In 2007, an initiative known as Ballin’ for Peace was added to unite the community, provide information on health services, offer employment opportunities and educational resources. The non-profit organization also provides educational grants, scholarships, health care services, and a wide range of entertainment programs.

A young Kobe Bryant joined the street ball action at Venice Beach pictured with Ryan Hicks, Pro Gupta, and Kenn Hicks. (Courtesy photo)

Although the local tournaments were successful, Kenn possessed a strong desire to expand the tournaments comprised of teams from all over the United States.  He remained determined to develop enthusiasm for outdoor streetball for more markets.

“We put Ballin’ for Peace together to go different places. Anyone can either play or watch others play-just to be a part of something positive,” said Kenn when explaining his vision.

“It would be a good thing to pass that around and allow both the young and old to be a part of it.” He credits his son Ryan with modernizing and enhancing the goals for today’s audience.

“It started through basketball and then evolved. We did football, tennis, yoga, and basketball clinics through ‘Parks After Dark’,” added Ryan who also works as a sports coordinator for LA County’s Parks & Recreation.

Parks After Dark was designed to keep parks open during summer evening hours when crime rates are highest and the youth have fewer social and recreational opportunities.  Events are also held throughout the year at venues such as Val Verde Park, Baldwin Park, Jordan High School in Long Beach, Melville J. Courson Park in Palmdale, and Jackie Robinson Park in Sun Village-Littlerock.  This year’s summer programming extends from June 13 to August 3.

In 2009, Ballin’ for Peace members were honored during a L.A. Clippers half-time game. The organization received a Certificate of Appreciation from former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for their exemplary work. Villaraigosa also emphasized that the organization helped reduce serious gang violence in Los Angeles when gang-related homicides fell nearly 40% in 2007.

“Sports is just a way to a large amount of people together at the same time, to share in common interests while giving them resources,” Ryan continued.

“Connecting with the highest level of organizations such as the NBA and WNBA, we’re able to reach across the board for a broader audience since sports leagues like to get involved in the community as well. They reach out to me for collaboration to put on events.”

Left to Right: Romeo Mastin (KDAY), Marcus “DJ Crash D” Miller, Ryan Hicks and Kenn
Hicks highlighted during an LA Clippers game. (Courtesy photo)

From years of helping his father with event logistics, Ryan officially took on the responsibilities of expanding Ballin’ for Peace as program director after graduating from Kansas Wesleyan University where he also played collegiate hoops.

“Working with Ryan has been great because he knows what our objectives are, what we can do, and how we can do it with both the young and old,” explained Kenn. “He has a lot of suggestions, and the outcome is always positive.”

In addition to hosting annual events that encourage the youth to take a more peaceful approach to life, Kenn Hicks is also a licensed clinical social worker, often giving lecturers on subjects of domestic violence prevention throughout the country.

To further guarantee that the atmosphere remains a safe space for all who wish to enjoy the high energy spectator sport, even the music selection played during the tournaments are carefully curated through a profanity-free Ballin’ for Peace mixtape. Now in its third edition, the soundtrack featuring artists such as DJ Drama, Redman, Wu-Tang Clan and even NBA athletes that ventured into hip hop such as Baron Davis, Ron Artest and Paul Pierce, produces music that has a positive and uplifting message.

“Anytime we’re able to directly affect the community by giving them a unique experience that will create lasting memories, it’s a huge win. Working with Ballin’ for Peace has done just that for the participants. The smiles carryover from the endgame experience to the future as well,” according to Atlanta radio personality, Reec who has served as MC at Ballin for Peace events.

“Programs like this not only bring families to an unforgettable experience, it also lets the community know that there are actual people out there they care about them. Yes, they get to go to a high-flying basketball game, but they are also given a sense of hope that the world is still a place, the values them.”