GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — What started as a one-time run to bring people together during a tough year, turned into a community of people from different backgrounds who have grown closer just by listening to each other.

2020 was the year of pandemic, politics, protests, and pain for many Americans. Tyrone Irby figured the reason many people weren’t seeing eye to eye is that they wouldn’t talk to each other.

“2020 was a very tough year for a lot of people. After Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in February of 2020, I wanted to do something to bring people together, have conversations and rebuild unity,” Irby said.

He did just that, creating what he called Together We Stand.

“Together we stand was kind of an idea to just do something different and have people engage with each other rather than being divisive,” Irby said.

The organization was born in Durham in 2020. Tyrone originally wanted to hold a run in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was murdered in Georgia by two white men in what racially motivated hate crime.

The first run was a single 2.23-mile run in honor of the day Arbery was killed. It was followed by a unity 5k a few months later.

“I think running is an opportunity to have people from all races, all genders whether you’re running or not. You can walk a 5k. Getting them out there in a safe space to engage with each other.”

The goal was to make more people comfortable addressing but understanding each other’s differences. With race and social justice being such big topics in 2020, Tyrone hoped the runs would bring different people in the same place, and help facilitate some of the difficult conversations he felt were needed for unity. It worked, and the conversations continued well past the finish lines.

“This isn’t about Black vs. white. This is about people coming together and having a conversation about race in general,” Irby said.

Word about together we stand quickly spread to cities outside of Durham. The Irby’s worked with local businesses in Charlotte, Greenville, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and High Point to increase community engagement. They also started making custom t-shirts to get even more people talking.

“Every message behind the shirt has a meaning for it,” Irby said. “The first shirt I think we did was an MLK quote. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ It’s another opportunity to be engaged with people who don’t know you and you don’t know them. And if one person in that group says I saw that shirt at the race let me go online and research that group. That’s a win.” he said.

This group was the perfect start for people like Joe Randene and Mollie Caragol who were wanting to do something to address issues of race happening around them but didn’t know how or where to start.

“That’s kind of how I got hooked. Is because I was always how can I help, what can I do. I know something is not right but I really don’t know what to do about it. And Tyrone laid out this path that I could get behind which is we have to work together and have these conversations,” Randene said.

These smaller meet-ups helped start these difficult conversations in ways where everyone felt welcomed and safe, and set the foundation for deeper relationships with other Together We Stand runners.

Joe Randene talks about one week when the group invited Greensboro police officers to join the conversation.

“So when we had the police there the opportunity came up and we kind of discussed, what goes through your head when you get pulled over for a violation. You get pulled over by a policeman, what goes through your head? And myself I kind of talked about how the first thing that goes through my head is how am I gonna try to get out of this ticket. We had some folks of color at the table that day and they kind of talked about I want to keep my hands where the policeman can see them, I don’t make any sudden moves I’m thinking about how am I going to get out of this exchange safely. And then the policemen talked about how they want to go home at the end of their shift. They have a husband or a wife at home or children and they’re approaching a window or a car and they don’t know what’s behind that window,” Randene said.

The group has also brought people together that otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths.

“I’m actually adopted by a very white family so I was kind of raised in that kind of community. So I’ve had the chance to get to know other Asian American people through this organization just who have grown up with Asian parents and have experienced that dynamic on a level that I just wouldn’t understand,” Caragol said.

Getting more people to see life from another person’s point of view is exactly what Tyrone believes will bring us all closer.

“57-year-old black man from Brooklyn New York. My lens is different from her lens, Joe’s lens, Mollie’s lens. So for this to work for everybody, I need to know what’s going on in his mind, her mind and her mind and everybody else’s because it’s not a black-and-white thing. It’s an Asian thing, it’s a gender thing. It’s an everybody thing,” Irby said.

“The approach of humanizing each other, building that trust and then realizing that no one is going away. So if we’re going solve problems, you have to solve problems with everybody involved. Because the policemen aren’t going away, black people aren’t going away, white people aren’t going away,” Randene said.

The next set of TWS ‘Maud’ runs will be in February of 2023. More details will be released on the TWS website in the coming weeks. TWS shirts will be restocked soon and will also be available on their website.