The Courts at “Portland’s Projects”

Text by Katy McCarthy | Photos by Elicia Epstein

Remember how good it felt to be young with a ball clasped in your hands? How cool it felt to be in the center, shouted at from all sides? Your teammates calling for you to pass to them; the distant piercing trill of your mom whistling at your success…

In sport and play, we learn to move our little bodies in conjunction with a team. We experience the joy of collective winning and we practice losing with grace and an eye toward improvement. The court and the field are arenas for sport, but also spaces for learning. In one diverse community in Portland, Maine, the Kennedy Park basketball courts are a gathering space for folks of all ages, races and backgrounds in which to cooperate both in sport and community.

Elicia Epstein, a 21-year-old photographer, made the series as a part of her study this fall at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She created this series over several days spent at Kennedy Park, photographing and chatting with residents. She sees the courts as a space of diverse and quirky community, as well as just a nice place to hang out for the afternoon.

Nestled in a neighborhood locals call “Portland’s Projects,” the courts are in many ways a borderland between public housing and new development. Throughout the day, activity ebbs and flows — people walking through on their way to the mosque, to catch up with neighbors, to check on kids and, of course, to shoot some hoops.

“It is an active, communal and safe space in an area that would otherwise be considered threatening,” explained Elicia.

In one photo, a woman holding a cup of her own urine flags down her daughters and a nearby friend. The urine will supposedly tell her the gender of her unborn child and she wants their advice. In another moment, a little boy dressed in blue practices spinning a basketball on his outstretched finger. The old, worn ball dwarfs him. His focus is absolute. Those not playing sit on the bleachers, observing and making jokes. A group of three boys turn their attention away from the court to the adjacent field, where perhaps there is a more heated game to gaze upon.

Elicia was attracted to the basketball courts for more than just the gaming.

“I was drawn to the way the space redefines the neighborhood it is in,” she wrote, “if not for outsiders then at least for the people who call that block their home.”

Maybe today, even on your way somewhere else, wander to a nearby park. Observe the kids, the games and the chatter. This is your community at play. This is your neighborhood. Say hello.

See more photography by Elicia Epstein


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