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NBA player Wayne Ellington speaking at Peace Day Philly event

MARCUS HAYES, DAILY NEWS SPORTS COLUMNIST

POSTED: Friday, September 18, 2015, 3:01 AM

 

WAYNE ELLINGTON will return to the scene of the crime with a dream that, one day, such crimes will simply cease.

Ellington's father, Wayne Sr., was shot through the head while sitting in his car on the night of Nov. 9. He was 57.

Across the country, Ellington was beginning his sixth NBA season, this one with the Lakers. Ellington learned of his father's death after the game. Carl White, 34, has been held for trial on murder and weapons charges; this has given Wayne Jr. little relief.

In the past 10 months, he has wallowed in grief.

He has fumed in anger.

Now, he will act.

Ellington is the featured speaker at Peace Day Philly's "March for Peace" at 10 a.m. Monday from Mount Airy Park through Germantown (www.peacedayphilly.org). Ellington, who wears his father's initials on his basketball shoes when he plays, will wear a T-shirt with his father's name on the back; marchers are welcome to wear shirts with victims' names.

He will share his anguish with a crowd expected to be composed mostly of schoolchildren, many of whom lost a loved one to gun violence. At noon Monday, the International Day of Peace, he will join with the rest of the world in a minute of silence and he will pray for peace.

Ellington was raised in West Mount Airy, less than a mile from the site of the march; less than two miles from the site of his father's slaying.

"I've been back there," Ellington said. "The anger's still there. It was black there. It was cold.

"I think Monday . . . Monday will be better for me," he continued. "I think my father would be proud of me, doing something like this."

He's probably right. Ellington is working to make his hometown better, safer.

"I went through a horrible tragedy this past winter. I've been trying to think of whatever I could do to help raise awareness and bring more peace," Ellington said yesterday. "When I heard about Peace Day Philly, I had to be a part of it."

The rigid truth about tragedy is that it often strikes the least deserving. Ellington is a Philadelphia native. He starred at Episcopal Academy, then at North Carolina, always sheltered from gang involvement and adolescent violence by his parents and two older sisters. He enjoyed a championship career as a shooting guard at North Carolina, where he evolved a personality as graceful and elegant as his game.

But then, often tragedy acts as a catalyst when it affects truly good people. In Ellington's case, he channels his anger into activism.

Today, Ellington is in Chicago with Isiah Thomas and a dozen or so other current and former NBA players preparing to help run the fourth annual Chicago Peace League Basketball Tournament, which is aimed at reducing gang violence in Thomas' hometown; "try to calm some of that hatred," Ellington said.

Monday, Ellington will be one of the main attractions at the fifth annual Peace Day Philly, the culmination of a weeklong series of peace-oriented events.

"I think it will be incredibly meaningful to the students to know that he knows what some of them have had to go through," said Lisa Parker, Peace Day Philly's co-founder. "I think he will inspire them; using his experience from such a tragedy to try to take action through peace initiatives in his hometown."

Both locally and globally, those initiatives are not limited to minimizing gun violence in dangerous cities such as Philadelphia - an epidemic that is nearly unique to the United States among developed countries.

The United Nations officially recognized the concept in 1981 and, in 2001, set aside Sept. 21 for official observance. Now, from Hong Kong to Vienna, from Chicago to Kathmandu, activists conduct marches and workshops aimed not only at ending gun violence but also eradicating nuclear arms and ending religious conflicts.

The three-block walk up Germantown Avenue is a drop in the global bucket. Ellington realizes that his involvement helps make it a bigger splash.

"Obviously, with me being in the NBA, I can use my name to help raise awareness," Ellington said. "Hopefully, I can get more guys in the NBA involved. This is a cause way bigger than me and what I went through. Maybe now that I've gone through it and understand what others have gone through, I can be a force to help make Peace Day more public."

His efforts will not be without pain.

Ellington will play for Brooklyn this season, a two-hour ride from Philly, much closer than his previous stops in Minnesota, where he was drafted in the first round and played his first three seasons; Memphis, Cleveland, Dallas and Los Angeles. That means family and friends can come often.

His father watched every game on TV; he would have worn out the New Jersey Turnpike. They talked and texted before and after every contest. It also means Ellington will find himself at home more often, too.

"Initially, when I came back, it was tough. Really tough. I did not have a good feeling, but that's my home," Ellington said. "Rather than my father's death just being a statistic, I'd rather do what I can."

The statistics surrounding Wayne Sr.'s death are alarming. According to the Philadelphia Police Department website, he was slain in the 39th District. FBI stats say he was one of 21 gunshot homicides in that district in 2014; only one district, the 22nd, saw more. No district had a higher percentage of victims die from gunshots.

The rest of the world sees America as a gun-crazed society. Ellington hopes to change that perception by changing the reality.

"It will take generations, but it's got to start somewhere," Ellington said. "This is just the beginning of it for me."

 

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