After a teammate was shot in the stomach during a drive-by shooting in New York last summer, a group of teen basketball players decided to take a stand against gun violence.
The boys talked. Their coach, Andy Borman, listened.
“I heard our group talking about [the shooting] and I just sat back and listened. I didn’t want them to change their dialogue because I was there,” Borman, 36, tells PEOPLE. “They talked about how tragic it was and they felt the need for change.”
The team, known as the New York RENS, an organization that teaches disadvantaged youth the importance of sportsmanship and academics, decided to attach an orange patch to their jerseys. They became the first sports team in the country to wear orange patches on their uniforms to signify “safety” and “anti-gun violence,” says Borman, the organization’s executive director.
Through word of mouth, more than 350 teams and 10,000 athletes wear the orange patch in an effort to spread awareness. It may seem like a small idea, but the kids say they feel part of a larger movement to get guns off their streets.
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Greg Calixte, a senior in Mount Vernon, New York, says the issue of gun violence is an issue for everybody.
“We don’t wear this orange patch just for New York. We want to stop gun violence everywhere,” says the 17-year-old. “You’ve got to take the guns out of bad people’s hands. Lives are important. And nobody’s life should be taken because of gun violence – no matter what the situation is.”
Many of the players have been affected by gun violence. Some have been victimized.
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In August 2015, RENS player Tyrek Chambers, 17, was walking to a convenience store with friends when he got caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. He was shot in the stomach and spent a year in rehabilitation with a colostomy bag attached to his side. He has fully recovered and has resumed playing with the RENS.
Chambers’ story is one of the reasons the group started wearing the orange patch.
“It feels like an honor to help start a movement,” Chambers says. “It won’t just benefit me. It’ll benefit everyone around the country.”