Former Trotwood, Dayton Flyers standout giving back through his Wright Way foundation

Tom Archdeacon: Former Flyer takes lead in assisting tornado victims in Trotwood

She had just walked out of the Big Lots store on Salem Avenue pushing a cart filled with cleaning supplies she hoped to get to victims of the EF4 tornado that had ravaged Trotwood neighborhoods just a few blocks away, as well as parts of Harrison Township and Beavercreek.

 

That’s when she spotted a tall, familiar figure who would help her do just that. He was wearing a white ball cap turned backwards, black basketball shoes and a big, giving heart right there on his (short) sleeve.

“Oh look at you!” the 28-year-old Edwards said gleefully.“Giving back to your hometown. Bless your heart!”

Many athletes – including some 40 members of the Miami University football team and Cody Latimer, the New York Giants wide receiver who left team drills to fly back home for a day — have stepped up since a rash of tornadoes ravaged the Miami Valley last Monday night.

»RELATED: Community-by-community assessment of damage

But no one has done more than Wright.

The former Trotwood Madison High School and Dayton Flyers basketball star, whose eight-year pro career has included stints with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, seasons in Poland and Israel and most recently the Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA’s G-League, has worked 15-hour days since the intense winds tore through his hometown.

»RELATED: Hundreds of volunteers clear debris in Trotwood

Alongside him much of the time has been his younger brother, Bam Bradley, who was a standout at Trotwood and Pitt and then began a pro career with the Baltimore Ravens that was cut short by a torn ACL.

They rode out the storm with their mom, Ernestine Grigsby, in her new home in Vandalia and Tuesday morning they were at the front door of Sam’s Club before it opened to stock up on water to hand out.

“When we started to go through the neighborhoods, it was just devastating to see people – to see their faces – as they were standing out in their yards with maybe part of their garage and a front door and the rest of their house gone,” Wright said. “Some of them we knew. They went down in the basement that night and when they came back upstairs everything was gone.”

Bradley was so moved he bought a chain saw so he could help clear yards.

Wright – who started the Wright Way Foundation some years ago and has put on free camps in Dayton and taken kids on museum trips in Oklahoma City — has set up a donation center in front of Big Lots so he can collect donated supplies and food and then get it to shelters and people in need.

Saturday his effort was joined by the Buffalo Solders Motorcycle Club, which gave our free meals and cold drinks.

As Edwards handed Wright her supplies, she explained how she too lived in Trotwood, but that her home had been spared: “I’ve been blessed, so I need to pass the blessing on.”

Wright has done that much of his career and it’s because of his upbringing by his single-parent mother – who has another pro athlete son as well in Nicholas ‘Freezer’ Grigsby, a linebacker who has played for NFL clubs, including New England and Detroit last season.

Former Trotwood-Madison and Univeristy of Dayton standout Chris Wright, pictured Saturday morning with his mom Ernestine Grigsby, the head of food services at Trotwood Middle School. Wright and his Wright Way Foundation have set up a goods collection site and a help area in the Big Lots parking lot on Salem Avenue in Trotwood. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

Ernestine is the food services manager for Trotwood Schools, where she’s worked for 28 years.

And while she’s the backbone of the family, she’s not the only source of inspiration for Chris.

There’s also that smoky bible the family still has and it comes with quite a story.

“I understand some of what people are feeling now because our family lost everything when I was just seven,” Wright said. “We were living in Summit Square Apartments and we had a fire that destroyed our townhouse.”

Just he and his older brother, Mark, where at home. Mark had been cooking something and when Chris woke up and walked into the kitchen, he saw the skillet on the stove was ablaze. He got his brother and as the grease fire intensified, they panicked.

When they couldn’t find the fire extinguisher, a bucket of cold water was tossed on the flames.

That just spread fire and soon the two boys were choking on the smoke and forced to flee.

“The place was destroyed,” Wright said. “I remember when my mom came home she just dropped to her knees. We’d lost everything we had …everything except the bible. It’s the only thing that didn’t burn up.”

Ernestine explained: “It was on the top shelf of the closet downstairs, right next to a new sewing machine I had. I lost it, but the bible was saved.”

“It just smells a little smoky,” Wright added.

“And I still have it,” Ernestine beamed. “I tell people about it now.”

Wright nodded: “At a young age I learned that no matter what anybody said, God is for real.”

Lessons from mom

It took the family a few years to recover from that fire Ernestine said.

“We were actually homeless for a little minute,” Wright said. “We stayed in hotels and with other people and with my aunties. I missed something like 82 days of school that year. It was tough. But people reached out to finally help us.

“My mom did her best and she took care of us and other kids she adopted, as well. We still were poor and as I grew up I thought, ‘One day I’m going to make sure my kids and other kids get what the need.’”

If they were short on material possessions, they had an abundance of character fortification in their lives. That came from Ernestine, too.

She taught them hard work and kindness to others and the lessons of that smoky old bible.

“We used to have bible study every Wednesday night at 6 in the basement,” she said with a grin. “And you better be there. And you went to church on Sunday.

“If other kids wanted to stay over, that was fine but come Sunday morning they went to church. If not: ‘Go home!’”

When her sons weren’t praying, they were playing.

Wright became one of the most exciting basketball stars in UD history – his dunks rival Obi Toppin’s above-the-rim antics – and after three years of All Atlantic 10 honors, he has forged a pro career that continues.

“But I realized no matter how much success you have on the basketball court, it doesn’t mean you can treat people any differently,” he said. “It shouldn’t change your core and who you are and what you learned growing up. You can build your life, but the foundation shouldn’t change.”

‘It’s a blessing to be a blessing’

Wright said former UD standout Charles Cooke – now chasing his own NBA dream – was going to join him at the Big Lots site Saturday afternoon.

In the morning one of his older brother’s University of Cincinnati football teammates showed up with supplies. UD academic counselor Beth Flach stopped by too, as did Wright State advisor Megan Watson.

Some of the goods collected by the Wright Way Foundation at the Big Lots on Salem Avenue in Trotwood. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF
Photo: Staff Writer

“A lot of the UD guys have reached out,” Wright said. “Guys from my era and a little after, like Dyshawn Pierre, Kendall Pollard, Rob Lowery, Devin Oliver, Marcus Johnson and Brian Roberts.”

He started to laugh: “They all ask if we’re OK and they all want to know ‘How’s your mom?’”

Bradley said former NFL player and Trotwood coach Jeff Graham stopped by and he heard Norris Cole was helping in the neighborhoods and Marcus Freeman had, too.

So are several high school teams.

“A lot of us have been blessed and I think it’s our obligation to pass that on,” Wright said. “It’s a blessing to be a blessing.”

Ernestine was even more succinct.

“I’d call it karma.”

And in her new home, she has an old smoky bible to prove it.

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