Photograph of Ahmaud Arbery

The Black Plight Series

Part I
Who Was Ahmaud Arbery?

Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are the latest examples of the black plight in the United States. All were unjustly killed at the hands of white men or police officers, and Americans everywhere have fiercely reacted, via social media and in the streets of cities across the nation. 

In the Black Plight Series, we will examine the lives and deaths of Arbery, Taylor and Floyd, the legal response to their killers, and how their demises have impacted the nation as a whole. 

In Part I, we will take a look at Arbery’s life through the eyes of his family and friends.

Earlier this month, Ahmaud Arbery became a national figure – a national figure of the racial injustices that still plague America. 

In February, Arbery was pursued and eventually shot to death by two white men – Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34 – while jogging in Satilla Shores, a small neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia. 

But before we examine the circumstances of Arbery’s death, let’s first take a deeper dive into his life. 

Arbery, 25, was a graduate of Brunswick High School. After high school, he attended South Georgia Technical College, aspiring to become an electrician.

A Miami artist paints a mural of Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.

A Miami artist paints a mural of Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.

Arbery was a football player in high school. A longtime friend of Arbery’s, Akeem Baker, said that Ahmaud was “the funniest guy on the bus” and the “fastest boy on the football field.”

In a New York Times article, Baker explained his relationship with Arbery, and how Ahmaud served as his support system during his time in college:

Mr. Baker said he learned what confidence looked like simply by watching his friend. He took the confidence with him when he left his small hometown Brunswick, Ga., for Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he thrived in a school that produced Spike Lee and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Years later, after the boys had grown into men, Mr. Baker, 26, found himself in Boston, where he was pursuing a master’s degree, depressed and worried that he was losing his passion for a career in medicine. He called Mr. Arbery, who had always felt much more like a brother, back in Brunswick. “When times get hard,” Mr. Arbery would tell him, “you’ve got to lean on chaos and come through a champion.”

Akeem Baker, left, and the late Ahmaud Arbery.

Akeem Baker, left, and the late Ahmaud Arbery.

According to friends and family, Arbery maintained “a seemingly bottomless reservoir of kindness he used to encourage others” and he had “an easy smile and infectious laughter that could lighten just about any situation.”

Before his death, Arbery – the youngest of three – lived with his mother while he got his life back on track. He did encounter some trouble during his youth, after bringing a gun onto the campus of Brunswick High School in 2013, earning himself five years probation. In 2017, Arbery was caught shoplifting at Walmart and his probation was extended. 

Still, his mother required him to have a job while living under her roof, and he worked at McDonald’s, and his father’s car wash and landscaping businesses before his death. 

Those that truly knew Arbery did not hold his mistakes against him, and realized that his heart outweighed his trials.

His high school football coach and U.S. History teacher Jason Vaughn said that Arbery would even offer him support on off-days.

“If I was standing in the hallway, kind of looking mean or having a bad day — maybe my lesson plan didn’t go right — Maud could kind of sense that about me,” Vaughn said. “He’d come stand beside me and be like, ‘I’m Coach Vaughn today. Y’all keep going to class. Hurry up, hurry up! … He was always trying to make people smile.”

Demetrius Frazier was another friend of Arbery’s, and the two grew up on the same block. He said that Ahmaud’s legal troubles put a pause on his life, but that up until his death, Arbery was focused on bouncing back.

“Ahmaud was just ready to put himself in a position to be where he wanted to be in life.”

Ahmaud’s friends and family will never get to see him in that position.

And in the weeks and months after Arbery’s murder, two more black citizens –  Breonna Taylor and George Floyd – met their demise, this time at the hands of white police officers…

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