Culture

Charlottesville mom keeps daughter’s cause alive a year after death

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES (JULY 31, 2018) (REUTERS) – Every few weeks, Susan Bro walks down 4th Street in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, until she gets to a brick wall covered in chalked messages like “Love over hate” and “Gone but not forgotten.”

On Tuesday (July 31) Bro, 61, stood on the block now named for her daughter, Heather Heyer, who was killed almost a year ago while marching against a white supremacist rally.

Since August 12, 2017, when a suspect rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heyer and injuring several others, Bro has channeled her rage and grief into spreading the same message that drew her daughter downtown that day.

Bro said she made a promise to her daughter at her funeral, when she saw her bruised, broken body for the first time and broke down in tears.

“I held her hand and said, ‘I’m going to make this count.'”

Heyer’s death capped a day of clashes after hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others descended upon the city, drawing national attention to the “alt right” movement that had grown bolder since U.S. President Donald Trump’s election.

Trump faced intense criticism after the protests when he seemed to equate the white nationalists with the counter-protesters, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.”

Bro said she chose not to return several phone calls from the White House after learning of the president’s remarks.

Before last summer, Bro, a former elementary schoolteacher, led a relatively quiet life, doing secretarial work and living in a modest trailer home about 30 minutes north of Charlottesville.

Within weeks of Heyer’s death, Bro created the Heather Heyer Foundation, in part to install a formal and legal structure to handle the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds that poured in from sympathizers around the country.

Bro found herself making appearances on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and at MTV’s Video Music Awards. She acknowledged that the intense media attention has caused resentment among some activists in Charlottesville who feel the focus on Heyer, a white woman, has distracted from the racial issues at the core of the clashes.

It has been a bit of a balancing act, she said, to amplify Heyer’s message without making it seem as though her daughter was the only victim who mattered. She noted that violence against black people often does not generate the same level of interest and warned against the “white-centered” narrative that portrayed Heyer as a leader rather than simply one of many people who decided to march.

As the city prepares for the first anniversary of the so-called “Unite the Right” rally, Bro is readying herself for another difficult milestone in a year full of painful moments without Heather.

“I’ve been told by other mothers who’ve lost children, or anybody who’s lost a loved one, that the firsts are always hardest. This will be the last of the firsts. We’ve gotten through all the birthdays and Mother’s Day and Christmas and Thanksgiving. This will be the last one. I’m not looking forward to it at all. But on the other hand, I’ll be glad to be on the other side of it,” she said.

Bro said she would bring flowers to Heather Heyer Way on August 12 before speaking at an event to mark the anniversary.

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