Feb. 23 marks the third anniversary of the racially motivated murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was hunted down, shot and killed by three white men in Glynn County, Georgia, in 2020, while he was jogging. While all three men have since been convicted of hate crimes and sentenced to long prison terms for their participation in the murder, the wounds have yet to heal.
In June 2020, motivated by the murder of Arbery and several other high-profile killings of Black men and women that proceeded that tragedy, Durham-based personal trainer Tyrone Irby launched Together We Stand NC, an organization that aims to heal those wounds even as the country has seen more killings, including the recent January murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police in Memphis.
Between Feb. 19-25, Together We Stand NC will hold its third annual week of Maud 2.23 events, in which runners honor the lives of Arbery and other victims of racially motivated violence while also raising money for local charities by participating in a 5K run. The events were originally inspired by a social media phenomenon in which people across the country ran 2.23-mile stretches in honor of Arbery.
Three Charlotte locations will host Maud 2.23 runs, while other events are planned for Pineville, Wilmington, Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Carrboro, Greensboro and Greenville. Charlotte’s events include a kickoff at NoDa Brewing Co. on Sunday, Feb. 19; a run at Divine Barrel Brewing in NoDa on Thursday, Feb. 23; and another planned for Fleet Feet in south Charlotte’s Waverly shopping center on Friday, Feb. 24.
There are currently 19 runs planned across North Carolina, though runners also have the chance to register online and participate virtually in a show of support.
In February 2021, Together We Stand NC’s first Maud 2.23 event saw 400 runners from 65 cities in 23 states participate, raising $4,740 for the Durham People’s Alliance. Due to COVID-19, the event was fully virtual, with Irby mailing shirts to all 400 participants who ran their own routes near their homes.
The Maud 2.23 shirts feature provocative quotes from figures like Angela Davis and MLK Jr. meant to serve as conversation starters. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” reads one T-shirt.
“When we founded Together We Stand, the goal was to create opportunities for people to work together towards a common goal to stand up and speak out against racism and hate,” Irby told Queen City Nerve. “The runs are a way to get people together and be engaged.”
The 2022 event, the first to consist of in-person runs, included 1,271 participants nationwide — 830 in North Carolina — and raised $16,000 for charities across North Carolina.
“For us, the best moments are when we travel to different North Carolina communities and meet people of all ages and races and genders and hear their stories and engage with them,” Irby said. “The stories and the moments are powerful, and they are all different. For me it is exciting to hear from people of all races and genders and see how they view their communities and the world.”
A portion of this year’s proceeds will support Running Works, a Charlotte-based nonprofit founded in 2012 by Meredith Dolhare as a way to provide outreach to Charlotte’s homeless community. Proceeds will also benefit the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of Greensboro, and Building Hope Community Life Center in Greenville.
NoDa Brewing is also partnering with Divine Barrel to create a special extra pale ale collaboration beer to be released in conjunction with their respective events. Registration for the family-friendly 5K race costs $28. Irby said he hopes for 1,000 registered runners to raise $12,000 for the aforementioned organizations in 2023.
Irby, who opened The Choice Performance Center gym in Durham in 2013, said he had held yearly events to benefit organizations such as Girls on the Run in the past, but hadn’t been involved in activism until he learned of the Ahmaud Arbery’s murder.
“For me the Arbery case was different in that it involved civilians not law enforcement,” Irby said. “The more details emerged from the case, the more difficult it was for me to comprehend. My mother was born in 1940 in Mobile, Alabama, so I’ve seen the news footage and listened to the stories about what it was like to be a person of color in the deep South in that period. In some ways, the country has not changed.”
Aside from honoring Arbery’s life, Maud 2.23 is “meant to be a casual run that sparks courageous conversations amongst participants,” according to a release from Divine Barrel. “The goal is to give us all a chance to put in the steps to show support in ending racism, and towards building unity and compassion for others, no matter what makes us all uniquely different.”
Irby added that, while it can be difficult to hear of new high-profile killings happening each year, it’s important that he and his organization keep their eye on the broader goal of uniting local communities.
“For Together We Stand, we want to have the conversations to talk about the Daunte Wrights and the Tyre Nichols, but overall, we really want to find ways to connect people to each other and find ways to unify against those who are full of ignorance and hatred,” he said. “Taking the time to listen to each other is a giant step towards creating unified communities.
“To improve our impact, we have to develop partnerships of like-minded people and businesses,” he continued. “Talking about race and gender is not easy and it takes time and consistent effort. We feel that if you make that commitment, it’s a step in the right direction.”
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