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Online spat between Ahmaud Arbery's mother, foundation in his name intensifies

Ahmaud Arbery's mother "wants to own her son's name. She wants to own his legacy," attorney Lee Merritt told First Coast News.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — (Note: The video above is from a previous related report.)

A nonprofit foundation established in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, the young Black man gunned down and killed one year ago in Brunswick, is being accused of "robbing" donors of $226,000 after allegedly agreeing to a cease-and-desist by the family's attorney.

The foundation is responding by saying they made their intentions clear with Ms. Cooper and her attorneys.

Civil Rights Lawyer Lee Merritt made the allegation on Twitter, posting one day after the anniversary of Arbery's death, "Good morning America. You were just robbed for $226K in #AhmaudArbery's name by @223fdn. 2:23 continues to feight support for 'the family' but persist on raising $$$ against Ahmaud's mothers specific request & their legal agreement to cease and desist!"

Merritt also discussed the issue with First Coast News earlier this week.

“Wanda [Cooper-Jones] has had to deal with some frustration about people using her son's name to champion causes that I'm sure they believe were right. But she wants to own her son's name. She wants to own his legacy,” Merritt said.

The 2:23 Foundation, initially created in the wake of Arbery's death as "I Run With Maud," responded on Facebook to Arbery's family attorney's claim they "stole" $226,000 on the anniversary of his death.

"Today, we find it almost unbearable to have to release a statement about a tweet that called into question the efficacy and integrity of our work," the Facebook post says. "Yesterday, we spent an entire day in Brunswick, Georgia, grieving with a father, his siblings, and other family members and we organized a memorial walk with them to let the community know that there is much more work to be done to pursue justice for Ahmaud Arbery."

First Coast News spoke with foundation organizer John Richards. He says the organization agreed to remove the name and likeness of Arbery from their website, but says his fatal shooting remains linked to their origin.

Richards says the foundation is not raising money in Ahmaud's name and that Ms. Cooper's legal team is aware of the group's goal to pursue social justice in Glynn County.

The group was initially called "I Run With Maud" after Arbery's high school football coach Jason Vaughn uttered the phrase. Arbery's friend Akeem Baker, a part of the group, also organized a GoFundMe page in May that the group says benefitted Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones.

Richards, who is Vaughn's brother, says he has never met Ahmaud Arbery or his mother, but has made several attempts to contact Ms. Cooper directly.

Ms. Cooper has posted on Facebook that while she initially agreed to the social media page as a memorial and appreciated its original intentions, she now sees it as "more like a business opportunity" for those running the page, rather than seeking justice for Arbery.

“I’m encouraging other organizations to respect Wanda Cooper-Jones and her rights as a mom to grieve how she wants to grieve, to organize how she wants to organize and to respect her wishes that no one uses his name without her express permission,” Merritt added.

The group says it let Cooper and her attorneys know the money is not for personal gain and will go towards scholarships for people of color pursuing paths in social justice.

The group says they have support from other family members that live in Brunswick.

Scroll down to read the full statement from 2:23 Foundation.

"Today, we find it almost unbearable to have to release a statement about a tweet that called into question the efficacy and integrity of our work. Yesterday, we spent an entire day in Brunswick, Georgia, grieving with a father, his siblings, and other family members and we organized a memorial walk with them to let the community know that there is much more work to be done to pursue justice for Ahmaud Arbery.

One day after such an emotional event, a prominent civil rights attorney decided he would send a social media message that disparaged our name and the name of members of Ahmaud Arbery’s family. Using hashtags like #blackjudas his post seemed to imply that our organization does not have the support of Ahmaud Arbery’s family. And that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Marcus Arbery, Sr. is Ahmaud Arbery’s father. As three black men who are fathers, we are shocked that another black man, and civil rights lawyer, would continually trot out this narrative of black fathers and absenteeism when asserting that our organization does not have the “family’s” support. It’s disingenuous at best, when a majority of Ahmaud’s family members live in Brunswick and fully support our work. 

From the beginning, we have been fully supportive of Wanda Cooper-Jones. Our team has gone to great lengths to ensure she was aware of the work we were doing to help pursue justice for Ahmaud. 

We have addressed this on a previous occasion and are disheartened that we have to once again present factual evidence about the integrity of our work. But the work is too important for uninformed, disingenuous social media tweets to continue to disrupt our local activism. 

Here are a few important details: 

1. In spring last year, a fund was established through our team’s efforts and raised $2 million dollars through GoFundMe that his mother (according to the GoFundMe narrative) was the sole beneficiary for. None of our team members had any access to the money and when we closed the campaign, every dime went to her. 

2. We did indeed reserve the I RUN WITH MAUD trademark after one of our team members uttered the phrase and it became a global movement. But we were very clear to the family that we had reserved it for them. And we held true to that promise when we assigned the I RUN WITH MAUD trademark to Mrs. Cooper-Jones and Mr. Marcus Arbery since they both have survivorship rights to his likeness and name. Again, we paid out of pocket to secure and assign that trademark to the parents and did not use it for any commercial use the entire time. 

3. As with many other organizations, the 2:23 Foundation was birth out of tragedy, but its present and future work are dedicated to justice, advocacy, and helping youth thrive who might not otherwise have a chance. We continue to honor Ahmaud because he is the catalyst and purpose behind our work, but we also are intentional about doing preventative work to help prevent tragedies like this in the future. There are several other organizations that are doing the same (i.e. orgs that were prompted to action because of this tragedy; see Just Georgia-who is using his name and likeness with impunity). 

4. In the spring, our team attended every event locally with his mother. Coach Vaughn and Mr. Frazier were there with her when she attended rallies and events in the area to honor her son. She took pictures with the team, thanked us profusely for our support, and thanked us fro the work we were doing to pursue justice for our son. One of our team members, Demetris, is Maud's first cousin. He is indeed family. So we were just as surprised when we read that we didn’t have the family’s support.  

5. Demetris' uncle, Marcus Arbery, Sr. is Ahmaud's father. He still lives in Brunswick. He's been around and involved in his son's life. He attends every event that we host. He has been at every bike ride we have participated in monthly. He and the Arbery family in Brunswick have given us plaques for the work that we are doing. Mr. Arbery has publically stated that he supports our organization. He was in attendance and spoke passionately at memorial for his son on the 23rd in Brunswick. He promoted that event personally and publicly. His Mrs. Cooper-Jones no longer lives in Brunswick and has no desire to return (which we understand and empathize with the real pain she feels), but national coverage rarely mentions his father (aunts, and other family members locally) and their presence and passion to see justice locally every month. They continue to show up and demand accountability. We have their support and we need to be clear on that.

Finally, not one of our team members has profited personally from any of the work we are doing. Every dollar from this virtual run is going toward scholarships for black and brown people in our community. It will be a managed, transparent fund that will include Mr. Arbery as a key decision maker on who receives the disbursements of those funds. As with the trademark, it has always been our hope that Mrs. Cooper-Jones would also be involved in the selection process of these students who are future justice fighters. And we are still hoping that will be the case. But we wanted to be very clear that every person on our team is volunteering their time without personal gain. We have no operating budget at all. That’s what you do when you care deeply about a cause. You do the work. Period. No other motivation but that.

Again, we have addressed this before. And it’s tiring to continue to have this prominent attorney parachute in and out of our city and attempt to dictate the good work being doing by Brunswick’s citizens. Locally, the people know the truth. And we hope soon that this matter will be resolved amicably for the sake of the future work and to properly honor a young man whose memory we all are trying to keep alive."

Arbery was gunned down while running through a residential community. Three white men have been charged with malice and felony murder charges in his death after cellphone video emerged showing the deadly shooting. All three have pleaded not guilty.

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