Albert Holley found his passion for working with children while raising his nephew, Michael Dixon,in Randallstown in Baltimore County. Dixon was into basketball, so Holley became his basketball coach.
Years later he became a basketball coach and teacherat predominantly Black schools Woodlawn High in Baltimore County from 2003 to 2006, and Milford Mill Academy from 2006 to 2012, where he won two state championships.
In addition, he was the coordinator for the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) ― a four-year high school program at Woodlawn High and Milford Mill Academy designed to close opportunity gaps facing some students as they prepare for college.
Now Holley operates three Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard franchise locations in Catonsville, Windsor Mill and the Inner Harbor. Part of running the business, he said, is teaching young adults about responsibility and investing in their community.
When he was transitioning away from coaching and education, he said he was looking for ways to contribute to the community because “you still want to serve that mission of helping young people grow.”
“I’ve been able to do that by employing young people. A lot of cases, it’s their first job,” he said. “What you’re doing is shaping their ethic and their understanding of what work is.”
Eleven years ago, Holley, who is Black, launched Legendary Hoops, a nonprofit providing up to $1,000 in scholarships to employees at his Rita’s franchises. His goal is to expand the scholarship to all childrenin the neighborhoods where the shops operate, he added.
A 2001 graduate of the University of Baltimore, Holley, 49, studied business management. He grew up with a single mother in a two-bedroom apartment in Randallstown.
He’d like to teach his daughters — Nyla, 17, and Alissa, 14 ― the power of hard work, he said.
“Hard work pays off. Once you begin to achieve your goals, now you have to go back and help others do the same,” he said.
Shaniqua Parrish met Holley while working as the basketball team manager at Milford Mill Academy during her sophomore year.
A former manager at Rita’s, Parrish said although she wasn’t in Holley’s AVID course, he still taught her some of the class materials, such as how to navigate college applications.
“I don’t think that I would have been able to get to college if it wasn’t for him,” said Parrish, who earned a master’s of science degree in clinical mental health counseling from the Johns Hopkins University last year.
Parrish, whose dad, Curtis Parrish Jr., died of a drug overdose when she was 7, said Holley has been a father figure in her life. Holley still makes time to check in on her despite having his own kids, a wife and multiple businesses.
“I’ve always called, and still call, Mr. Holley ‘Dad’ because, again, he’s been an influential person in my life,” she said. “Whenever I refer to him, if I text him, if he sees me, I’m like, ‘Hey, Dad.’ That’s the kind of relationship that we have cultivated.”
Kaybreia Marshall, manager at the Windsor Mill Rita’s location, is studying pharmacy technology at Top Knowledge Healthcare Institute and plans on attending Community College of Baltimore County.
Marshall, who is Black, said Holley will be helpful, adding that he’s a role model who has taught her “hard work pays off.”
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“We don’t see a lot of our own people own multiple franchises, or multiple businesses or business in general,” Marshall said.
Holley, whose wife of 23 years, Melissa, helped start the franchises, said he faced challenges that people of other races wouldn’t have.
“If I’m going through the banking system and trying to acquire loans to [negotiate] with landlords, there’s an undertone as you go through this process of disadvantage for minorities trying to get into business,” he said.
The public school system needs to create programs to steer more children to business, he said.
“Teaching financial management should be mandatory in school,” Holley said.
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at email@example.com.