Veniceball unveiled the Watts Oasis, an art-infused basketball court and community garden on Saturday, March 23, to provide a safe space and resources to the underserved Watts community.
“I discovered this court that was hanging on a string here 10 years ago and I always thought it would be nice to kind of upgrade the facility,” explained Nick Ansom, founder and CEO of the Venice Basketball League.
The Watts Oasis court refurbishment was the tenth of its kind, part of Veniceball’s Build Courts Not Walls global campaign. With the help of 100 volunteers and Watts Towers artist in residence, Augustine Aguirre, muralist Robert Miller, and Gonzalo Duran, creator of the Mosaic Tile House, the court was transformed by 10,000 mosaic tiles that make up the basketball hoop backboards along with the outlines of the court.
Ansom shared that each tile is representative of “a bunch of broken pieces of different people’s dream that together, have so much power and so much strength.”
What was once the set of the 1990’s sports comedy White Men Can’t Jump, has now become an oasis for members of the local Watts community to utilize. Sixth grader Jaheim R. Jones is a Watts native and was one of the many volunteers on the front lines ensuring the project’s completion.
“I did a lot of this,” Jones said as he pointed to the tiles on the court. “It means a lot because I’ve been playing here since I was five [years-old] and we only had a half court with gang signs on it. It said 103rd Grape. Nick said it was my court, and I believe him.”
Jones took pride in the newly renovated space as it symbolized hope. Watts, predominantly made up of Black and Brown populations, encompasses several low-income housing projects including the Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens. The median household income is $25,161 according to the L.A. Times and only 2.9 percent of the population over the age of 25 have a four-year college degree.
With very few healthy and fresh food options, Watts is considered a food desert. Veniceball partnered with Community Healing Gardens to start the community garden.
“No matter where you come from, money and food should not equal each other,” said Nicole Landers, co-founder and director of Community Healing Gardens. “Everybody deserves fresh food, especially here in L.A.”
Five-year-old Watts resident Kymiah, grabbed a watering can and pointed its spout towards the newly planted community garden.
“I love gardening,” she remarked. Kymiah shared that she does live in a residence with a garden, but it did not stop her from digging her hands deep into the soil and re-potting as many plants and vegetables as she could.
“It’s our mission in life to empower youth, teach the next generation,” Nick said. “That’s why you see we have a vegetable garden…Health is a big part of becoming a whole being, becoming sustainable, becoming healthy so we want to bring this holistic lifestyle.”
African Americans experience health challenges in the form of diabetes, cancer and other death-threatening illnesses at disproportionate rates.
“Us growing our own food in our own neighborhood protects our community and it only ensures that our health risks are lower,” stated Stix, founder of Think Watts.
Positively impacting the youth by providing access to resources has proven to have a domino effect on the greater community.
“It is critically important that our children have a safe space to play, so that they’re not worrying about the stresses that really impact their ability to learn,” remarked Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán. “Sports help create discipline, it’s great that the church has opened up its space for us to get together for this event.”
The inaugural event kicked off with all-day festivities including a Venice Basketball League celebrity game, a performance by Tommy the Clown and complimentary food and drinks. Veniceball has donated over 1,000 basketballs as part of a grassroots initiative to bring communities together through the game of basketball, the Watts Oasis is its biggest project to date.