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How ex-pro basketball player turned N.J. cop helps inspire youth

Reggie Wright, 41, traded in a basketball for a badge, and he’s now working hands on with students making a difference


By Vashti Harris

NEW JERSEY — Growing up in Trenton in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Reggie Wright, 41, knew that if he wanted to achieve his dreams, he had to set a goal.

“I used to put my head on the pillow at night and go to sleep and dream about what I wanted to become and when I visualized myself, I was a (pro) basketball player. And I was able to accomplish that,” Wright told NJ Advance Media. “I chose basketball and really fell in love with the game because of Michael Jordan.”

Wright said he knew by the time he started the fifth grade that he wanted to play basketball professionally, adding there weren’t many Black male role models when he was growing up.

He would go on to play professionally overseas in a career that included playing with teams in Germany, France, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, finally playing full-time with a team based in Zilina in the Czech Republic.

Today, Wright is an officer in East Brunswick police department’s Community Policing Unit, and helps run the department’s Law Enforcement Against Drugs program, working with hundreds of fifth grade students each year.

“Being alone overseas really opened my eyes to (see) that there’s a whole world out there,” he said. “The opportunities that the world presents to us are not limitless but can open our minds to things that we would never even fathom.

“I always tell (my) students exposure leads to expansion. Being exposed to different races, ethnicities and cultures really expanded my mind. … growing up if it wasn’t for basketball, I would have never left the Trenton area.”

Wright, who sits on the board of directors of UrbanPromise of Trenton, has organized the the education-based nonprofit’s “Sneaker Ball,” being held 7-11 p.m. on Saturday at Stone Terrace By John Henry’s in Hamilton Township.

Wright attended New Jersey City University in Jersey City, before turning pro and playing overseas. After learning he was going to be a father, while still playing professionally, he began thinking about life after basketball.

“Playing professional basketball in Europe, not semi pro, but actually playing professionally in Europe was a dream come true,” he said, “But when I realized I wanted to have a son and a family, I realized the most important thing for me, as a father, as a Black man, was to be present.”

Wright said while his father lived only a block away from him while he was growing up, they were not close. “My dad lived on the next block over,” Wright said. “I could walk outside the back door to my house and literally play catch with my father, but we had no relationship.”

Wright said his father battled with substance abuse, which he said impacted their relationship.

Wright said it was a friend, who was a New Jersey state trooper, who guided him toward law enforcement.

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“I really didn’t have a plan for life after basketball because that’s all I had dreamed about doing from the time that I was a child,” Wright said. “So, he said, ‘We need more Black people in law enforcement and more Black role models for students and people in different communities that look like us,’” Wright said.

Wright said he never thought about pursuing a career in law enforcement because police officers weren’t viewed in a positive light where he grew up.

“He was still the same guy he was before he became a trooper,” Wright said. “I felt that I could have a tremendous impact amongst the Black community, because I do believe if we’re going to affect change, we need to lead and have a seat at the table.”

Wright said he shares with his students that accomplishing a goal requires responsible decision making, self-discipline and their ability to manage their emotions.

“I realized if I wanted to play professional basketball, I couldn’t always hang out with the dope boys,” he said. “I couldn’t cut class. I couldn’t just go out. … I had to make responsible decisions.

“I understood as a young kid growing up in the city of Trenton that my emotions would affect my decisions. And my decisions would ultimately affect my goals.”

Wright said UrbanPromise provides educational services, a free summer camp, and career building services for all Trenton students.

“My heart and passion is trying to help these Black boys and girls narrow the academic achievement gap,” Wright said. “So, I want to help them achieve academic excellence, and then after that is life skills.”

UrbanPromise hosts a gala fundraiser each year, and this year guests have the option of coming in formal attire, and sneakers. “It’s a night to come out still just your formal attire, have a fly pair of kicks on, and be comfortable,” Wright said. “You’re coming out to support an extremely important cause because the money that’s raised is going to help provide all the resources that we utilize for the students throughout the whole year.”

Wright said he plans on announcing the launch of the “Isaiah Jordan Wright Scholarship Fund,” named after his 11-year-old son, during this year’s gala. “Our hope and prayer is to raise money for this scholarship fund, which is going to be funneled through UrbanPromise of Trenton,” he said. “I want to help support Black boys who consistently come through UrbanPromise’s program on a consistent basis for a number of years and then go on to attend an Historically Black College and/or University.”

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