SCHENECTADY — When a friend told Tyrell Outlaw there was a small city park at the corner of Windsor and Landon terraces, he didn’t believe them.
Outlaw had been taking his two children, Elon and Jaylen, to Central Park to play basketball when he first discovered the small park in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood in 2019. The park was closer to his home than other city parks, but lacked many of the amenities and appeal found in other green spaces.
There was a playground and basketball court, but neither were in very good condition. Overgrown weeds and litter were found throughout, and the park was far from the safe haven for children and families it was meant to be, Outlaw said.
“I stuck around for a little bit and I just let them play, but sitting there and watching them play in such an unsafe place, it didn’t seem right. It bothered me,” he said.
So, Outlaw decided to do something about it.
The day after he first visited the park, Outlaw returned with a push broom and swept the court. From there, he slowly began trying to clean up the park with the help of neighbors, who removed litter, plucked weeds and did just about everything they could to revitalize the facility.
It wasn’t long after the community effort began when Outlaw learned he could properly fund the restoration through the Schenectady Foundation’s Thriving Neighborhoods Challenge program, which awards funding to grassroots projects aimed at improving the quality of life within the city. The program was launched in 2019 and has awarded over $500,000 to more than 20 projects.
Outlaw applied, and received $62,000 from the foundation last January, which would eventually be used to repave the dilapidated basketball court, install new trees and fencing and build a stone staircase leading into the park.
“Certain things were very vital to me, like flowers, a new fence, a new basketball court,” he said. “There were certain things I felt it deserved and I’m just glad we were able to make it happen.”
The pandemic delayed the project for a year, but the improvements were officially unveiled Sunday during a ribbon cutting at the park, renamed Jaylen’s Park in honor of Outlaw’s 8-year-old son.
Jaylen, who said it felt “great” to have a park named after him, was among the more than a dozen children who were playing basketball and climbing the playground Sunday. The renovations, he said, were worth all the effort.
“The first time it was dirty. There was glass around and just a whole bunch of stuff. So, we decided to fix it and it took like three years,” he said.
Jaylen’s older brother, 10-year-old Elon, also left his mark on the park by designing the backboard of the lone basketball hoop.
The design depicts Kobe Bryant — the NBA all-star who died in a helicopter crash in 2020 along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others — with a halo and angel wings. The backboard was painted by artist Kymberli Gaillard, who spent most of her life in Schenectady but now resides in Glens Falls.
“My dad asked me about an idea and I said might as well put an NBA player, so I sent him a picture of Kobe Bryant,” Elon said of the design, adding Bryant is his favorite basketball player.
Gaillard also painted a mural on the basketball court, which is believed to be the first basketball court in the Capital Region featuring a mural.
The mural, entitled “The Colors of Children,” is Gaillard’s first such painting. She typically paints portraits, but agreed to design the mural after Outlaw, a high school friend, asked. Local artist Raè Frasier served as the mural installation manager.
The mural features faceless children painted in a variety of blues and pinks to represent all races. A sun ray is bursting from the heart of each child.
“I wanted it to be gender neutral so that everyone can feel a part of it, while simultaneously putting different colors so everyone of color can feel represented,” Gaillard said. “This is a place for children to play, so I just wanted everyone to feel included and for everyone to feel represented in the piece.”
Finishing touches are expected to be completed at the park next year, including the painting of a hopscotch and foursquare court.
Volunteers from the SEAT Center and Schenectady ARC helped bring the rejuvenated park to fruition. Mary Moore Wallinger, a Schenectady landscape architect who operates LAndArt Studio, helped with the park’s design. Trees were donated by ReTree Schenectady and the playground mulch was purchased by the city.
Outlaw said the project is an example of what’s possible when the community comes together.
“We can change our neighborhood and communities regardless of who we are,” he said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.