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Words by Gavin V. Smith

In April of 2018, I took my high school students to Montgomery, Alabama where we visited the Equal Justice Institute (EJI), a place created to honor black lives and end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality. My students and I saw The National Memorial for Peace and Justice that memorialized 4,400 African American men, women, and children that were beaten, hanged, burned alive, shot, and/or drowned by the hands of white mobs between the years of 1877 - 1950. As I saw the markers with so many names symbolizing the loss of lives in a day at the hands of White America, I gained a new perspective. These moments made what I learned in history books seem surreal, and I watched as others around me were brought to tears.

Every day in America, we as a people – and by we, I mean the many different members of the diaspora who identify as Black – fight for freedom. Double consciousness, a term coined by Black historian W.E.B DuBios is a constant. For me, my surroundings, my dress, my presence, my tone, my being are always in question by society.  Yet running has been a world outside of my own where I can get away. It has fed my soul quite deeply for the past twelve years – when I am running, I feel free. When I hear a Black man was killed doing one of the things that brings me joy and peace, I am outraged, and again I feel saddened and afraid. Running for me has now become a matter of life and death. I, like you, want justice, but more than that I, like you, want change.

Ahmaud Arbery was jogging near his home in Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020 when he was gunned down

Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old Black male, was hunted and killed by a father and son duo in Brunswick, Georgia while he went for a run. Many have acknowledged that if he were white he would be alive today. This notion is powerful, but it is also the norm in America. We continue to build plaques in remembrance of the many modern day lynchings that have happened over the past 20 years. As a boy, I remember being in New York and constantly hearing the name Amadou Diallo, which turned into Sean Bell, which turned into Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner amongst many others. The narrative remains the same, the results too. There are places and situations in America where we do not feel safe. We are almost expected to die at the hands of law enforcement or civilians to the point where our parents have to have a talk with us – a talk about what it means to be Black in America.

There is tremendous power in numbers, so when we all set out today to run our 2.23 miles and log it on various media, think about the power that all of us put on the line for this. White folks, runners, I need you to “pull up”. We need more than allies who only acknowledge the injustice, feed the narrative by posting on social media, and run with Maud. For me, a Black man, it’s bigger than running for Maud. I ask you to advocate for all the names listed in this post and many more. Stand in solidarity as a co-conspirator to seek justice in this case, change the laws, and dismantle the systems that continue to make Ahmaud’s life something that holds little value. When I think about lining up for a race and seeing the sheer strength in numbers at the starting line, I know we can make big things happen. Don’t just run for Maud, fight for him. Fight for Black lives because our freedom, and our freedom to run, is bound up together.

Gavin V. Smith is Assistant Head of School at Fenway High School in Boston