The family and friends of former Ball State football player Wendell Brown are still looking for justice — and with the help of an alumnus, they're getting close.
After an incident in September 2016 put 30-year-old Brown in a Chinese jail, his family has been doing everything it can to get him released. His mother Antoinette Brown even reached out to President Donald J. Trump for help in November.
Wendell attended a party at a bar and was arrested for hitting a man, resulting in an eye injury. Although Wendell had no prior arrests and denied the charge, saying it was self defense, he was detained in a Chongqing jail in China and has yet to be released.
The Daily News first reported about Brown in November. Since then, Antoinette has not stopped looking for answers.
"I've constantly been reaching out to several representatives, making numerous calls and making people in Washington, D.C., know Wendell's story and gain their support," Antoinette said. "I spoke with two alumni from Ball State that are meeting us in D.C. and they've been really supportive."
Ball State alumni Chickaro Martin and Matt Liston both reached out to Antoinette to help give her son justice.
"When I read an article and learned more about the circumstance, at the time, I was thinking 'he's going to come home soon and this is going to be over,'" Martin said. "But then I read the article again and was like wow, this is a messed up situation. I've traveled over seas and encountered some bad experiences, but I can't imagine what it's like to be incarcerated. It sounds terrifying."
Martin graduated from Ball State in 2002, where he was a defensive back on the football team under head coach Bill Lynch. The more he found out about Wendell's story, the more Martin felt connected to him from his home in Washington, D.C.
"Learning about Wendell's story definitely brought back memories," Martin said. "I thought about that team component and that brotherhood shared on and off the field. I feel like, as a Ball State alum, we should maintain that comradery and maybe that could achieved even through this unfortunate circumstance. Basically, connecting with each other and rallying around this situation."
Martin decided that he wanted to help Brown any way he could, so he reached out to Ball State.
"I now talk to [Antoinette] about once a week," he said. "We had a phone conversation and I said, 'I'm here in D.C. if there's any steps you would like me to take, I'm here and can do it, like go to Capitol Hill, knock on some doors, etc.' I have a few relatives and friends that I can connect with and I can try to be that support for you."
Antoinette said, "Whatever you can do to help."
Since then, the pair has planned a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with government officials and start a "positive rally" in hopes of bringing Wendell home.
"We're meeting with government officials," Antoinette said. "I'm going to talk to them regarding Wendell's case and what they can do to assure his freedom home. We have a state forum relations committee and we are speaking with state officials."
Antoinette said she has meetings planned with representatives from the U.S. State Department and the Chinese Embassy. Antoinette has not heard back from the Chinese Embassy to secure a time for she and Martin to meet with someone, even after sending a letter to current Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai regarding Wendell's situation.
The State Department released a statement on the case that read:
"The Department of State takes seriously its obligation to assist U.S. citizens arrested abroad. The U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, China, has been providing consular assistance including monthly consular visits to Mr. Brown since he was detained. We continue to monitor his case closely. We last visited him on January 19, 2018."
Beyond Martin, other Ball State community members have made statements regarding the issue heard through social media platforms in an effort to bring awareness to the rally in D.C. on Friday.
Ball State Athletic Director Mark Sandy put out a video on Twitter through the Ball State Sports Twitter page to show his support.
The video sparked an interest of Wendell's case to the Ball State athletics community as numerous students and community members are interacting with the tweet.
On Friday, Antoinette and a bus load of family members will ride to Washington, D.C., where they will meet with Martin to hold a "positive rally."
"I am going with a busload of family members and friends to D.C.," Antoinette said. "People are flying in to meet us there and other people are driving to meet us there. I'm traveling with his grandparents, godparents, brother, aunt and cousins. There's about 25 of us on the bus."
When Antoinette arrives, she has a list of things to do in order to draw attention to her son's scenario.
"We're going to pray first, and then we're going to have a positive rally requesting justice for Wendell," Antoinette said. "We have poster boards of all the positive things that he was doing over in China, and the many waves of people that we've met that have been supportive and we have interactive posters with his son, family and friends to show the things he was doing as a father, son and a mentor."
Since late November, this trip has been the biggest step in bringing Wendell back safely to the United States.
With the support from the Ball State community and Antoinette, along with family and friends, the team hopes to leave D.C. ending the more than year-long battle.
"I think once Wendell comes through this scenario ... he will be a great resource for all of us," Martin said. "We should share his experiences and shed some light on judicial systems different from ours. I think he could be a tremendous resource for our nation as a whole, especially and uniquely as an African American male and athlete."