It’s not about the world — just the block.
Anika and Christian Waterman have spent their lives in Crown Heights, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the two found themselves face-to-face with gun violence in the area. Christian was in Jackie Robinson Park one day that year when shots were fired in the green space. He wasn’t injured, but from that day on the couple knew they had to do something about a growing problem in their neighborhood.
Just weeks later, the Watermans organized the first-ever “I Am Peace” basketball tournament. On Aug. 13 they — and many of their neighbors — proudly held the fourth annual installment of the event.
“It started because of all the rampant gun violence that was going on in our neighborhood and at Jackie Robinson playground,” Anika said. “It was just a day of love and peace and basketball. It was just about the community and we turned the whole entire neighborhood into a mecca of peace. That’s what our goal was and always has been, even until this day.”
The response to the tournament was immediate — with hundreds of members of the community turning out to the park and the playground to spend a few hours on the court. At the core of it all was basketball, a common interest for everyone involved — including the Watermans.
“The playground is nothing but basketball courts, and the young men, a lot of them, play basketball,” Anika said.
“My husband played basketball and I was the manager of a team in high school, so it all connected into the sport,” she added. “We just kind of thought, ‘what’s something to get everyone together?’ Everyone just wanted to be out here and be peaceful and the basketball tournament made the most sense.”
The event itself is a series of 3-on-3 competitions with 32 total players, but it has grown to be much more: the Watermans formed and expanded the I Am Peace Foundation to include a year-long mentoring program for local youth.
“All the youth and their parents and older neighbors want to keep it going because it has such a positive impact on the neighborhood,” Anika said. “We celebrate their birthdays with them and put them in [a position] to know young professionals, and young, black professionals. It’s a very positive thing.”
Anika says the first tournament was financed largely by the Watermans’ family and friends, but now has the backing of the greater community, a trend she is convinced will continue.
“The first year we started, we had to have an immediate response to [the violence that] had happened,” Anika said. “[The second time] we applied for grants and funding and got help that way and our church and family helped us. We got more exposure as time went on.”
The Watermans know they can’t change the entire world, and aren’t trying to. They are, however, trying to make a difference in the community that has been theirs for as long as they can remember, and provide a bit of hope for the young kids who might not otherwise see any.
“It means a lot. It means everything,” Anika said. “We deal directly with young men and, by extension, some of the young ladies. To see the smiles on their faces and know that we’re able to take them out of the neighborhood, is incredible.”