The Frederick Douglass Houses, community leaders, and the NYPD are hoping to keep children off the streets and on the basketball court this summer in the Upper West Side.
With the COVID-19 pandemic vastly reducing activities for young people due to mass closures—especially within low-income neighborhoods—the NYPD and community leaders have devised a way to keep adolescents safe and entertained during the warmer months thanks to the opening of a newly refurbished basketball court near 830 Columbus Avenue.
With the summer just over the horizon, it was rather apt that an event to celebrate the official opening of the renovated Frederick Douglass Houses’ basketball court commenced with a block party-esque atmosphere on Wednesday evening. For over half an hour, the NYPD Police Band had children and adults alike clapping their hands and dancing to iconic beats. Toddlers stared in awe as drummers crouched beside them, hammering their instruments, and even handed the little ones a drumstick to take a whack of their own. Shedding their masks thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, 2021 looked a lot like 2019 again.
“This is all for you, our children. We have been locked up for so long to bring everyone together. It’s about building bridges, bringing Douglass families together, no division. We want to make sure we are safe all the time,” Frederick Douglass Houses Tenant Association President Carmen Quinones told onlooking families.
Once the band had left attendees’ moods high, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea joined, members of the NYPD’s 24th Precinct, Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes, Chief of Housing David Barrere, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers, community leaders, and others to christen the court.
“This is a partnership, between federal, state and local partners,” Shea said, giving one little excited boy a ‘high-five’ before continuing, “We are here for you! This is the second of 15 courts that we are rehabbing as one of many things that we are doing. All with the most important thing in mind: Doing the right thing for kids and the community.”
The Commissioner attracted quite a crowd of young fans who idled just below the podium with wide eyes and open mouths. The Frederick Douglass Basketball court is the second site to receive a full renovation, the Wagner Houses also had their court upgraded and opened on May 7, as a part of the “Safe Summer NYC” program.
Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the “Safe Summer NYC” initiative that will increase officer presence in high crime areas, shifting approximately 200 officers to street patrol and conduct various community programs, such as hosting nighttime basketball games and hosting gun-buy back operations.
“This is just a perfect example of what we can do when we work together. By working together with our community, our federal partners, and our local partners we were able to take assets seized by law enforcement operations and direct them to spaces for our children. We devoted over $4 million in asset funds to opening up spaces for New York City kids,” Chief David Barrere said.
In addition to the unveiling of the new basketball court, children in attendance received a truckload of free toys from the First Responders Children’s Foundation, who both donated money and supplied the toys for the festive event.
“We are delighted to partner with the NYPD and public safety to bring toys and support their incredible endeavors to bring basketball courts to NYCHA and to bring mental health awareness, and fun and joy, and help bring kids back outside after a difficult time,” Jillian Crane President First Responders Children Foundation.
After the speeches culminated, the children rushed onto the court where they instantly began shooting hoops. They were not alone, however. The NYPD’s top cop could have been mistaken for an NBA top shooter as Shea made several impressive three-point throws to much adulation from the young players. Filming the fun on his cellphone, Shea laughed with community members and reveled in the latest crime prevention program.
“My two favorite words are community and solution. Identify where we need change and then bring the right people to the table to make it happen,” Chief Holmes said.