Ahmaud Arbery would have been 26 on Friday.
Friends and family have remembered the Georgia resident as a source of light and positivity. He was active in the Brunswick-area community, and most of all he loved to run.
However, what is said to have started as a routine midday jog on Feb. 23 turned fatal when he, a black man, was gunned down by a former police officer and his adult son. Video of Arbery’s shooting death surfaced online this week, sparking national outrage. Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on murder charges Thursday.
Arbery’s former coach finds way to honor him
According to Arbery’s father, Ahmaud Arbery’s 26th birthday on Friday was supposed to be a massive celebration — and afterward, as his son always did, he would have left the house to go on a run. Instead, Jason Vaughn, Arbery’s high school football coach, is inviting supporters to help join in on a different kind of celebration this weekend to honor his former student.
Vaughn is asking supporters to honor Arbery by running 2.23 miles, representing the date of his death. He also asks that those involved record their run and post it to social media with the hashtag #IrunwithMaud.
“With COVID-19 of course, we can't have a demonstration where we all come together,” Vaughn told CNN, noting that the event will still connect people from all walks of life to commemorate Arbery’s legacy. “Any runner can identify with Maud, a guy who may have had a bad day, but he can go out there and hit the pavement and go jog.”
Vaughn recalled the last time he saw Arbery was on a run in the neighborhood. The two crossed paths early in their runs, but when Vaughn tried to catch up to Arbery to joke around, he said he couldn’t keep up with his pace. "I'm going to keep going just like he was going last time I saw him," he said.
People, let's do this. Friday, 5/8. The running community has the chance to honor Ahmaud Arbery and demand justice for his killing. See you out there. #IrunwithMaud #JusticeForAhmaudArbery #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/sKP8renq42
— Sally Bergesen (@oiselle_sally) May 7, 2020
Run groups plan to run with Maud
Despite social distancing mandates prohibiting large gatherings, communities around the country have organized their versions of the run scheduled for Friday. And for many joining the demonstration, Arbery’s shooting hits close to home.
Ike Onyeador, Brooklyn resident and a pacer for Harlem Run, a collective focused on empowering the community through running, is choosing to participate in the run to honor the memory of Arbery and celebrate his 26th birthday. Yet, he adds Arbery’s killing sheds light on a larger discussion around racial tensions in America.
“As a runner, we're generally told, you know, run when people can see you and make sure you wear bright lights and bright clothing on just to be safe. And so this guy's running in the middle of the day and being gunned down, somebody like myself who runs almost every day — and I'm also, you know, 27 — it kind of hit home to me in a different way, especially as a black man,” Onyeador told Yahoo Sports.
“It's just another example of being in our country. Now, you can’t even exercise in peace without having to kind of think twice in terms of, you know, who might be out there with negative plans for us. But I'm glad that people have put together the run in his honor,” he continued.
Jennifer Herr, who will be participating in the event with North Brooklyn Runners, said she hopes the run will increase awareness and activism against the racial injustices surrounding Arbery and other victims.
“In spite of my best efforts to serve as a listener, ally, and activist, I feel powerless to protect those I love when we are all devastated by the news of yet another unjust act of violence against an innocent black man,” Herr said.
“It is unbearable to imagine, however, that Ahmaud may also have used running as his daily meditation and stress reliever, only for someone to destroy that ritual with violence causing his death on a beautiful day in February,” she added.
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