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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 a 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 and understanding each other’s differences. With race and social justice being such big topics in 2020, Tyrone hoped the runs would bring different people to 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.

Within two years, the group has evolved into a big, blended family… a safe space to share experiences and brainstorm ways to fight injustice.

 “To be consistently engaging with people about these issues will be what’s going to work. So that’s going to be the goal,” Irby said.