They gathered on the new turf of a new football field outside a renovated recreation center in the Rosedale community of Northeast — where the District’s mayor once shot hoops when he was a teen — and celebrated the idea of a fresh start.

“Keeping our young minds busy will keep crime from starting,” said Sondra Phillips-Gilbert, president of the Rosedale Grass Roots Organization, who began fighting for the new rec center in 2006. It opened on Memorial Day.

She and other community leaders and senior police officials came to Rosedale, south of Benning Road, to kick off Tuesday night’s National Night Out. It's an annual police “open house” of sorts in more than 15,000 communities across the nation to get officers and residents together fighting crime and forging community ties.

Virtually every neighborhood in the District, and across the region, held events Tuesday, including cookouts, “bike with a cop,” and movies.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray told those gathered on the Rosedale field that he grew up nearby and played basketball on this very spot — when there were courts, no football field. He said offering activities for youngsters will help “solve crime and prevent crime at its beginning stages.”

The mayor noted that crime has declined in some categories — such as homicide, burglary and auto theft. But he didn’t mention that it is up in other categories, such as armed and unarmed robberies and assaults. While the city is on pace for a possible record low number of killings this year, violent crime is up overall in the District, according to police statistics.

Still, officials and residents enjoyed the evening of camaraderie, with D.C. Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes, who runs the patrol bureau, saying during her remarks, “We are here to celebrate our success. We have so much to celebrate in Washington, D.C.”

A football coach talked about a former player who is now at the University of Tennessee, and just wrote a book of poetry and is in a play. The message was clear: Youths can successfully emerge from even the most troubled neighborhoods.

“Safety begins with all of us,” said Gladys Mack, another Rosedale community leader, noting the smallest of steps can make a lasting impact. “If you see something that needs picking up, pick it up,” she said. “That’s where safety starts.”