For the first time in 30 years, children at the Frederick Samuel Houses Community Center in central Harlem will play basketball on a new gym floor and have an electronic scoreboard — all paid with cash seized from drug traffickers.
The cost for the gym floor, the scoreboard and funding for the NYPD’s Police Athletic League “Cops & Kids” program that includes T-shirts, trophies and refreshments, is about $32,000, according to the city’s special narcotics prosecutor’s office.
Elijah Brooks, director of the community center, said the refurbished gym “will make the kids feel like they are at the Garden, which kids should be able to experience.”
“The old floor was a mess,” he said after Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, at which neighborhood children lined up to play their first basketball game with police officers from the 32nd Precinct. “The kids can’t wait to play on the new floor.”
Emmanuel Brewster, 18, said playing basketball with the officers has provided him mentors who help him stay focused on completing his GED. He plans to enroll in college to study criminal justice.
“Every time I see Officer [Shannon] Myers on patrol, he stops and asks me if I am OK. He asks me if I’m hungry. He and his partner are always very helpful. I feel that I can turn to them if I need to talk,” said Brewster, a former member of the Police Explorers.
Myers, 33, said playing sports with the neighborhood kids “helps me relate to them better. I get to see them grow up and help them get a job or help with their resume.”
Det. Sal Clark, 34, also from the 32nd Precinct, said forming bonds with the young people in the neighborhood “lets me give back.”
“I grew up in the same kind of neighborhood where my father was killed because of gun violence.”
Clark, who grew up in Spanish Harlem, said there were several police officers who helped him get through the crisis.
“I didn’t have a man in my life and one of those officers took me to my first Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. I will never forget it. That officer, who I never got to really thank, showed me a world outside my neighborhood.”
Sharenee Atkinson, 29, a single parent, said the NYPD’s Explorers program has helped teach her 13-year-old son Saadiq Hudgins respect and discipline, which has helped him excel in his school work. “I am so grateful to them.”
Saadiq said: “I used to be on the rooftops getting in trouble and now I am learning my drills and doing community service like cleaning up the garbage in the neighborhood.”