Going back several decades, Esplanade Gardens was one of Harlem’s most active enclaves for positive and engaging youth activities. Basketball was perhaps the most notable pastime, with names such as Artie Green, Butch Lee, Alvin Lott, Chucky Brown and Jerry McCullough leaving an indelible imprint on the six-building community that runs from 145th Street to 148th on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, still referred to as “Seventh” by many longtime New Yorkers.

As the years moved forward, Esplanade Gardens, a Mitchell-Lama Housing cooperative that opened in 1968, saw many of its youth seek social activities in other areas of Harlem and beyond. The past Saturday, a group of residents, some whose seeds were planted in Esplanade soon after it was constructed, initiated what they are endeavoring to be a revitalization of the once bustling basketball and artistic youth culture.

Spearheaded by residents Carol Lewis, Latoya Grant and Board President Malcolm Punter, the once iconic basketball court, essentially dormant for 30 years, was awakened with a festive celebration highlighted by a three-on-three basketball tournament and dance contests for children of all ages. Food was donated by Leon Ellis, owner of Chocolat Restaurant Lounge in Harlem, in addition to Papa Johns. Lewis led a contribution of free backpacks and school supplies to all of the participating youth.

The three-on-three battles were officiated by a quartet of Esplanade staples. Travis and Bethel Debnam, former All Hallows High School standouts who went on to play for Fordham University and Montana State respectively, Alexander Peaker, an alumnus of the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, and Devonne Buckman manned the whistles.

“Many of the kids just need an opportunity to show what they can do,” remarked Travis Debnam regarding the depth of untapped intellectual, athletic and artistic talent permeating Esplanade. Saturday was a promising beginning.