‘A piece of me is gone’ Coach reflects on Ahmaud Arbery’s life one year after shooting

SATILLA SHORES, Ga. – Tuesday, February 23, marks one year since 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while running in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick. Three men are now charged with murder in Arbery’s case. But those arrests didn’t come until months later after a cell phone video recorded by one of the defendants showing his death surfaced online.

Tuesday, the public is invited to attend a memorial walk and candlelight vigil in Satilla Shores.

RELATED: Times and locations of vigils

On a morning where one could expect to see neighbors out and about, the roads in Satilla Shores are quiet. The space where a small memorial once stood now lays empty. Arbery’s high school football coach, Jason Vaughn, says the community still holds onto his memory.

“A woman in the community, she said every morning, she walks her dog,” Vaughn said. “When she walks her dog, she’s expecting to see Maud just coming around the corner.”

Arbery’s death hit Vaughn hard. He remembers Arbery as a driven linebacker when he played for him at Brunswick High School. But off the field, Arbery’s winning smile and flare for cracking jokes are what stand out most in his mind.

“He gave me a hard time and picked on me a whole lot. It was all out of good fun to get me smiling,” Vaughn said. “It’s just a piece of me gone.”

With the tragedy, a community rallied. Vaughn co-founded the 2:23 Foundation with Arbery’s cousin, a platform dedicated to addressing issues of racial injustice. There, people post online and share their reasons for running.

“I love Maud like I love all my football players,” Vaughn said. “As a teacher, as a coach, they get pieces of your heart. Ahmaud had a piece of my heart.”

To mark Arbery’s birthday last May, Vaughn called on people to run 2.23 miles and to share it online. Vaughn said the response was staggering.

“Over 100,000, on Maud’s birthday did that virtual run,” Vaughn said. “The #IRunWithMaud hashtag was imprinted over 800-million times on that day.”

Coach Vaughn said he was amazed to see how many people were running for Ahmaud Arbery around the country. But he was really touched when he saw it was having a global impact. He said celebrities including Oprah Winfrey completed the virtual run. He saw the posts were being shared in counties including North Korea, China, and Russia.

“People literally over the globe did that run,” Vaughn said. “It just kind of opened, it opened us up to realize we were on the right path.”

A path to never give up. Vaughn thinks back to the last time he saw Arbery not too long before his death. He said, as always, Arbery was on a run and he tried catching up to him. He said not to his surprise, Arbery outpaced him and never grew tired.

“As I reflect about Maud, I made a promise that I’m not going to get tired,” Vaughn said. “In pushing for justice for Maud, I will not get tired. I’m going to have the same endurance that Maud had and I will keep going.”

With tonight’s memorial walk and candlelight vigil, Vaughn hopes to send a powerful message.

“We are going to leave the neighborhood doing something Maud was given the opportunity to do,” Vaughn said. “As I told the community, please show up to support the family.”

The 2:23 Foundation is also hosting a virtual run to begin Feb. 23 and last through March 3. People are encouraged to run, walk, or bike 2.23 miles to #FinishTheRun. The foundation says all proceeds from the registration will be going directly to the 2:23 Foundation Scholarship fund. It says every dollar will be used toward the mission of providing minority youths with scholarships to pursue careers in social justice. The registration costs $23. To register, click here.

Learn more about the 2:23 Foundation here.

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