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Lions' Justin Coleman remembers Ahmaud Arbery as 'always a positive person'

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

When describing the dynamics of Brunswick, Georgia, last year —  a town of a little more than 15,000, which somehow managed to produce three starters in the Detroit Lions secondary a year ago — cornerback Justin Coleman said, "Man, the city where we're from everybody are cousins."

So it comes as no surprise that Coleman knew Ahmaud Arbery — the victim of an allegedly racially motivated shooting in February — quite well. The two families basically grew up together. Coleman's brothers, one younger and one older, were best friends with the Arbery brothers, while Coleman was in the same grade and had some classes with Arbery's sister. 

Lions cornerback Justin Coleman says he was close with Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot in February.

Arbery, who was on a jog through a Brunswick neighborhood on Feb. 23, had paused to inspect a home under construction. After the police were called, three men in the neighborhood followed Arbery in their vehicles, confronted and shot him in an ensuing struggle. 

Parts of the incident were recorded on a cell phone that was publicly released, leading to national outrage and resulting in the eventual arrest and murder charges being brought against the three men, Travis and Gregory McMichael and William Bryan.

During a video conference with local media on Wednesday, Coleman reflected fondly on Arbery, who was always making everyone laugh. 

"It's funny because you know how they have 'I run with 'maud,' they have a hashtag and all that?" Coleman said. "The funny thing is when I was going to school with him, he would actually run from a workout. He did not want to work out. If anybody knew him, they would know he didn't want to work out in the weight room. Sometimes he did what he had to do, but it was like, 'Oh my God, why I got to do this?' He was always a funny person, in general. He was like a comedian. Everything he said to me made me crack and laugh. He was always, in a workout sense, he wasn't so positive. When it came to just life and handling situations, he was always a positive person. He always smiled. 

"I can just remember on the football field one time. I guess he had to tackle someone and he came back on the sideline and was like, 'Man, that's a grown man out there.' It just made me laugh, in the midst of us losing a game. I don't know. I thought he always found a way to make somebody laugh and that was a great characteristic about him."

Arbery's case, along with the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, has been one of several recent incidents have that sparked massive Black Lives Matter protests across the country in recent days. 

Coleman said he's gotten used to these types of stories over the years, but could have never imagined them hitting so close to home, with someone he knew so well.

Arbery's death made Coleman think back to a conversation the two had, shortly after he graduated high school, when he was trying to find his way in the world. 

"I just remember Ahmaud saying something like he's not sure what his purpose of his life was, but I was just thinking in my head, like, dang, your purpose, basically, you know what I'm saying, was to start this movement, try to change the world," Coleman said. "Now, your life does have a purpose. Your name is being continuously talked about, every single day now."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers