As the one-year anniversary of last April's unrest in Baltimore approaches, a group of former college and professional athletes are planning a celebrity basketball game they hope will help unite the city.
Former New Jersey Net Kurk Lee, former New York Knicks Jerome Williams and Allan Houston, former Philadelphia 76er Mark Karcher, former CBA player Shawnta Rogers and former UMass Minuteman Donta Bright are expected to play.
One of the teams will be coached by former Dunbar and Maryland men's basketball coach Bob Wade. Additional celebrity appearances are expected to be announced later, organizers said.
"We want to be a beacon of hope. We want to be a catalyst to shine a light on Baltimore," said Ray Sydnor, the head organizer. "Baltimore's called Charm City for a reason. Since the whole world is watching Baltimore right now, let's give them something to watch."
In the week before the game, the athletes also plan to visit every Baltimore City public school to speak to students and share anti-violence, anti-bullying and other positive messages.
About a dozen organizers announced the game in a news conference with Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, Lt. Col. Melvin Russell and former Commissioner Leonard Hamm, who now leads Coppin's police force, on the university's basketball court Monday.
"The message is a message of hope," Sydnor said. "We want to talk about anti-violence, anti-drugs, anti-bullying and unity."
Davis said the interactions between role models and students have the potential to be powerful. He said people have reminded him recently that the anniversary of the 2015 riots is right around the corner.
"I sense some anxiety in their tone," he said. "But, to me and to the Police Department, we're looking forward to April, because we've turned and are turning what has been a challenge into an opportunity."
The April 27, 2015 riots took place on the day of the funeral for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who died from injuries sustained in police custody. After a week of protests, a confrontation between police and students was followed by looting and burning.
An emergency curfew was instituted and the National Guard was deployed to quell the riot.
"When April arrives," Davis promised, "that's when Baltimore will be its best. For anyone with low expectations — particularly anyone outside of this city with low expectations of Baltimore — we're going to prove them wrong."
Bright, the former Umass forward who is now a behavior specialist and basketball trainer, said Baltimore is "still my city no matter what."
"It's just a great feeling to come back home and try to help the next generation," he said. "I'm from, as they say, 'Down the Hill,' off of Monument Street, so I understand what goes on in our city."
Bright said the game is scheduled two days before his birthday — "so I'm ready to put on a show."
Tickets to the game will be $5 for students and $10 for adults.
An earlier version misstated the position of Donta Bright. The Sun regrets the error.