On Ahmaud Arbery’s Birthday, Thousands Say #IRunWithMaud

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On Friday, Ahmaud Arbery would have turned 26.

But on Feb. 23, as he was jogging not far from his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga., he was confronted by two white men in a pickup truck and fatally shot.

To commemorate his birthday, supporters of Mr. Arbery’s family are going for 2.23-mile runs — a nod to the date of his killing. And at a time when many people are prevented from gathering in person to rally, some are connecting instead on social media using the hashtag #IRunWithMaud.

ImageA solidarity badge displayed during the rally.
Credit…John Bazemore/Associated Press

By Friday morning, the hashtag had been used tens of thousands of times on Twitter, and people shared photographs of themselves outside in running gear, often alongside photos of Mr. Arbery.

The hashtag was started by Jason Vaughn, who was a coach for Mr. Arbery’s high school football team, and Akeem M. Baker, 26, a friend of Mr. Arbery.

“We thought it was a great idea to get it out to the public and to raise awareness about the tragic murder of my close friend,” Mr. Baker said.

[After killing, ‘running while black’ stirs even more anxiety.]

A police report said that on Feb. 23, two men grabbed guns and followed Mr. Arbery in a truck after he ran past them. The shooting did not receive broad attention until recently, after a video was widely shared showing the shooting. On Thursday, the two men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, were arrested and charged with murder.

Mr. Vaughn said the support from runners on social media was a fitting tribute to Mr. Arbery, who was a “phenomenal” runner himself. “This is going be a long road to justice, and we have to have the same endurance that Maud had when he took all those runs,” he added.

In Brunswick, people wearing face coverings gathered for a rally in person. (Georgia has begun to ease social distancing restrictions that were put in place during the pandemic, though serious risks remain, especially for black residents.) In Atlanta, people ran with #IRunWithMaud signs pinned to their backs.

But the social media users who participated were from all across the United States. They included doctors, teachers and professional athletes.

“Happy birthday to Ahmaud Arbery,” New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said in a video he recorded during his run on Friday. “Even though they arrested those two men, we’ve got to make sure they don’t forget his face and that he gets his justice in court.”

In Philadelphia, Dr. Paris Butler, 42, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, said he planned to run his 2.23 miles on a treadmill on Friday evening after a busy day attending to patients.

He said Mr. Arbery’s death brought to mind a commentary he had published in The American Journal of Surgery about how violence affects the health of black Americans. “I do my best to remain as apolitical as possible, but as a black surgeon and physician, I felt it was necessary to at least put my opinion out there,” he said.

The killing, he said, raised familiar anxieties about racism and inequality in the United States. “It’s just a reminder of how far we still need to go,” Dr. Butler said.

In West Hartford, Conn., Nicole Blades, an author, completed her 2.23 miles on a treadmill and shared a photograph of her socked feet and sneakers on Twitter. Mr. Arbery’s killing made her feel sick to her stomach, she said.

“I was feeling enraged,” she said. “Here we go again: another hashtag, another person’s life senselessly taken.”

Ms. Blades, who is black and a runner, said she typically ran with identification in her pocket, just in case someone questioned her presence — even in her own neighborhood.

So when she saw the #IRunWithMaud hashtag on Instagram, she decided to join in.

“It’s about keeping his name and his story in the headlines and not letting his story end with him being murdered in the street like an animal,” she said. “It’s about making his life mean something more than that.”

In Brunswick, Mr. Baker did his 2.23-mile run on Friday morning along Altama Avenue, a main thoroughfare where he and Mr. Arbery used to drive. “Riding down that road, we shared a lot of memories together,” he said.

It was a beautiful morning, he said, and he hoped Mr. Arbery, whom he described as “a bright light in this world of darkness,” would have appreciated all the people who were running in solidarity on his birthday.

“We can’t protest due to the pandemic, but we can still find ways to use social media to spread awareness,” Mr. Baker said. “And it spread like wildfire.”

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