WHY I FOUNDED TOGETHER WE STAND NC
TYRONE IRBY, Founder Together We Stand NC
My mother, Mary, was born in 1940 in Mobile Alabama. Historically Alabama has been a bastion of hate for people of color. Her and her four sisters moved to New York City in 1960. My sister, Kathy, was born in 1962 and I in the summer of 1965. We grew up on Howard Avenue and later Putnam Avenue in Brooklyn New York, in the area known as Bedford Stuyvesant.
For schooling my mother chose to send Kathy and I to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn for both elementary and junior high school. My junior high school was Roy H. Mann (IS 78) located in East Flatbush, close to a 1.5 hour public bus ride from our neighborhood. Mann was 95% white at that time.
In the 1970’s Flatbush and its surrounding areas were a powder keg of racial hostilities. Roy H Mann, located in upper Flatbush, was not immune to that. Every day was a threat of violence inside and outside the school.
Because of the distance from where I lived in Bedford Stuyvesant to Roy H Mann, I needed to take 2 public buses to get to school every morning. The first bus from the school took me to my second bus on Utica Avenue about 3 miles away. The B46 would take me the rest of the way home. It easily took 1.5 hours daily to travel to school every day.
We would periodically have race riots when the guys from South Shore had nothing better to do than come and start fights with black and Puerto Rican kids 5 years younger than they were. Rocks and eggs were thrown at buses and sometimes there would be fights on the bus until the police intervened.
One Thursday afternoon, I left school a little late and most of the buses had already left. I heard a loud scream and when I looked to my left, a bunch of large white boys ran from out of the tall grass on the side of the school towards me and some of the other black kids. Immediately we all broke running in different directions. I broke towards my bus stop 3 miles away. I was fast but I had two guys on a moped with aluminum baseball bats chasing me down Avenue N at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
At that time, there was not a lot of traffic and I didn’t expect anyone to stop and help. I knew I was running for my life, I kept my bookbag on my back and literally ran as fast as I could. I could hear the putter of the moped behind me as I ran in the street and on the sidewalk, zig zagging every couple of yards.
When I arrived near my second bus stop on Utica Avenue, the moped was closing in behind me with the guy on the back seat waving the bat trying to trip me.
I ran into a small candy store at the corner of Avenue N and Utica that I had frequented many times since I attended Mann.
The shop owner, a husky older Italian man with a bushy mustache, asked why I was running, and out of breath, I told him. He reached behind his counter and pulled out a large wooden Louisville Slugger baseball bat and told me to “come on”. He walked me out of his shop. Both guys on the moped were waiting outside. He told the guys to get away from his store and go home and not come back. Then he walked me to my bus stop around the corner with the bat over his large shoulder. He waited with me for my bus to come and I went home, tired, and scared, but safe. I never told my mother or anyone in my family what happened.
I finished my year at Roy H. Mann, graduated and went to Samuel Tilden High School, also in a different part of Flatbush in a neighborhood with Haitians and Jamaicans.
Simply that man in that store saved my life. He didn’t care about the color of my skin or where I lived or who my family was. All he saw was a scared kid being chased because I dared to go to school in the “wrong” neighborhood. He stood up. I can never forget that.
I first heard about the Arbery case in the spring of 2020. The more details that began to emerge, the sicker I became to my stomach. Because I know the feeling of literally running for your life. Although it’s been over 40 years since that day, I can still feel my heart pounding furiously while I ran.
I founded Together We Stand NC in summer 2020 because I wanted and needed to bring people together. The country was angry, and that anger was literally killing people. TWS is about the people and for the people. All races, ages, and genders are invited and welcome to be a part. Everyone has a seat at the table.
The one thing that we all can control is how we treat people. We all see the world from our own lens that has been developed by where you were raised, your upbringing, your experiences and so many other factors. But that lens cannot prepare you to experience the life of a person of a different race or gender. Every event we host is an opportunity to tell or listen to a story or many stories.
For me Maud 2.23 and Together We Stand is very personal. Thank you for listening and thank you for supporting our mission.
Tyrone T. Irby
Together We Stand. United We Rise.