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Amid Gun Violence, Basketball Uniforms Flash Orange Patches Of Protest

Amid Gun Violence Basketball Uniforms Flash Orange Patches Of Protest
The car pulled up to the corner, a gun jutting from a window, and two of the three boys on the street took off running. The third one, the fastest, a 15-year-old basketball star named Tyrek Chambers, had no time. A single shot caught him in the back. As he bled onto the sidewalk, he yelled that he had been hit.

“Nobody came back,” Tyrek said last week.

Nearly three months after the night he was shot in Brooklyn, the bullet is still lodged near his tailbone. Surgeons were able to repair his colon and attach a colostomy bag, which collects his waste. He is now 16 and playing no ball, at least until his internal injuries are healed.

Ordinarily such damage vanishes without a trace in terms of public notice: It is both too awful for people to think about the long tail of violence in a single life, and too ordinary to qualify as news.

This one is not going away.

Tyrek, it turns out, was the fourth player in just one small youth basketball program in New York City to be directly involved in gun violence over the last year. He and another player were shot; two others were accused of having fired guns, one of those of killing a girlfriend.

The players in the program — 200 boys, from third graders to high school juniors — have decided that they won’t ignore it.

This season, as they travel the city and country, every player will be wearing a uniform embroidered with an orange patch, sounding a visual alarm about gun violence. Just as pink ribbons have come to stand for awareness of breast cancer, and red for H.I.V., a “wear orange” campaign was started two years ago by teenagers in Chicago as a statement against the crisis of violence there, which had taken one of their friends.

The players belong to a group of teams formally called the New Renaissance Basketball Association, widely known as Rens. The Rens teams will be the first in the country at any level to include the orange ribbons on their uniforms, according to Jason Rzepka, director of cultural engagement at Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-violence organization that organizes “wear orange” days and events.

Andy Borman, the Rens executive director, said: “The orange patch is pretty much the kids taking a stand on their own behalf. The basic message is: If you think guns are cool, then you are a fool.”

Mr. Borman, who played on Duke University’s 2001 championship team and is a nephew of Duke’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, said that coaches kept hearing from their players about shootings, so Rens leaders sought help from Everytown and the group Sandy Hook Promise.

A Rens player who is one of the top-rated high school seniors in the country, Mustapha Heron, said that in Waterbury, Conn., his hometown, shootings have become too easily accepted.

“Everybody I know has been affected by it, some way or another, their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters,” Mustapha, 17, said. “After a while, it’s just another day.”

He will be attending Auburn University next year, and said he would ask the coaching staff about wearing the orange patch on his jersey. “Every school should definitely look into it,” Mustapha said.

Guns are pulled over insults on social media, said Amani Allen, 13, a Rens player in Harlem. “It can evolve real fast from Twitters and Instagrams,” he said. One former teammate was shot in the neck, he said. “The orange patch is a good way to make people understand as we go around to the tournaments.”

Tyrek, grounded by his bullet injuries, dug into breakfast at a Brooklyn diner last week and reflected on the mortality of young men in and around his neighborhood of Brownsville. “A lot of my friends is dead,” he said. “Hakeem. Ronald, two years ago, he was 13. Nathaniel, he was 18. My other friend, Pablo, that was last year.”

Not everyone dies when hit. “One friend got shot in the head and stayed alive,” Tyrek said. “One got shot in the chest. Another got hit in the leg.”

Yet he was sure no bullet was coming his way on the night he was shot, at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Lincoln Road. “I never even thought about it,” he said. “A lot of kids in bad neighborhoods think they cool. But a lot of people in this world die.” He said he did not know who had shot him or why.

What would he tell a young player, a younger Tyrek, for instance, about the meaning of the orange patch?

His reply was instant, a lesson freshly and painfully learned: Crews and gangs in the streets offer no protection to the boys who run with them.

“They don’t watch your back, but that’s how people feel,” Tyrek said. “Until something happens.”

Source: nytimes.com

Date Posted: Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 , Total Page Views: 1672

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