SCHENECTADY – What started as a simple desire to spruce up a neighborhood park on the corner of Windsor and Landon Terrace has led to a complete overhaul.
Working with the Social Enterprise and Training Center (SEAT) and with help from a $62,000 Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge grant from the Schenectady Foundation, city resident and rapper Tyrell Outlaw is turning the neglected park into a more welcoming space.
“It was . . . always dirty, always messy, trash,” Outlaw said. “You could barely see the courts. The hoops were terrible.”
Outlaw, who also goes by Rell Dolo, lived in the neighborhood just around the corner from the park for several years before he even noticed that there was a park that his two kids, Jaylen and Elon, could play in. The first time he took Jaylen, who was 6 at the time, Jaylen immediately started running around.
“He was playing four square, getting poked in the back with vines and there’s glass everywhere,” Outlaw said. “I’m like ‘I should just clean this park myself. This is just terrible.’ How bad does a park have to be for you to be looking at it and be like ‘I should clean it?’ It has to be really bad. No one goes to a park and thinks ‘I should clean.’ That’s not normal.”
The next day, he got a broom and started sweeping up the basketball court. Kids and parents from the neighborhood that he had never met before saw what he was doing and started helping out.
“This park is small enough to clean, this isn’t Central Park. One person can literally come through and pick up a few things and make a difference,” Outlaw said.
It’s something that the Schenectady High School graduate really wanted kids in the neighborhood to understand.
Outlaw has worked with kids and teens in some capacity for several years. He worked with at-risk youth at Mont Pleasant Middle School through SUNY Schenectady’s Liberty Partnerships Program and later taught in the school district.
When he’s not teaching, he’s rapping.
“I really started with music in high school,” Outlaw said. “Schenectady High School at the time, they had Prince Sprauve . . . doing the hip hop program. He had a studio going on in the school, so he was able to help the kids who were really into music.”
Since then, he’s released original songs and performed around the Capital Region as well as in Atlanta and beyond. He’s opened for Styles P. and Jadakiss.
His students and kids in the neighborhood know him as both a rapper and a teacher. Early in the park project (which Outlaw has called Jaylen’s Park Project), a few kids he had never met before approached him to say they’d seen his videos and liked his music. It made the project feel much weightier.
“If I can influence them in a music way, then maybe . . . if they see me cleaning up after the park, maybe they’ll be inclined to do so. I really think so, which is why I wanted to get the kids involved,” Outlaw said.
He’s organized community clean-ups, where kids and parents come out to pick up trash and sweep. He’s also asked for community feedback when it came to redesigning the park.
Some of the volunteers who have worked on the project are from the SEAT Center’s YouthBuild program, of which Outlaw is a graduate. Through the program, students work toward their GED and go through workforce development and training.
“I worked my behind off every single day there. It was an awesome experience,” Outlaw said.
To be able to work with students and with the founder and CEO Jennifer Lawrence has just been a great experience, said Outlaw.
It’s also helped inspire some of the students going through the program, according to Lawrence. Students who volunteer on projects like these “I think they feel more connected to the community,” Lawrence said.
Landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger of LandArt Studio can also attest to how involved the neighborhood has been.
“The difference even with what’s been done already is just tremendous. The last time I was there for a clean up some of the neighbors were there and they were just super excited to see what’s happening with the park,” Moore Wallinger said.
She’s been working with Outlaw for more than a year to bring his vision of the park to life.
The old chain-link fence has since been replaced with a wooden one to make the park more visible and welcoming. The basketball court has been repaved and turned into a half-court, allowing for hopscotch and four square. Stone steps have been installed, making for a more natural entryway.
In the coming weeks, they’ll put in new mulch and work with local artist Kymberli Gaillard along with community volunteers to paint a mural on the basketball court.
Parks like these, where people can gather and where kids can play, are incredibly important for city residents, said Moore Wallinger.
“It’s really wonderful to see the interest and the passion and the devotion to . . . not only restoring it to what it should be, [but also] making it even more meaningful in the process,” Moore Wallinger said.
William Rivas, who runs Save Our Streets/C.O.C.O.A. House, has known Outlaw for several years and feels that the park project shows community ownership and development.
“It is the level of inspiration that we want to give to our community. That’s what he’s doing. He’s taken a piece, something that’s near and dear and close to him and he’s using it to inspire the youth and to create something phenomenal for the future and that’s what we should be doing,” Rivas said.
“Sometimes it’s not about a lot of planning. Sometimes, it’s just doing the work and he understands that.”
Outlaw brings it back to his students and the kids in the neighborhood off of Eastern Avenue.
“A lot of children in our city are suffering from a lack of basic things like love, food, attention, a safe environment, healthcare, adequate education and when they read the news and see someone who looks like them, coming from Schenectady, 9/10 it’s something negative,” Outlaw said. “For once, I just want the kids I work with to see something good. I want them to see something that makes them believe that they can do anything.”
There’s still a bit of work left to do on the project, though Outlaw hopes to have it completed by the fall. Anyone who lives in the neighborhood and would like to volunteer can contact the SEAT Center at [email protected]