In February, I interviewed Susan Bro about the murder of her daughter, Heather Heyer. Sunday marks 1 year since her shy but passionate daughter was taken from her. For Heather’s mother “a year feels like decades”. I sat down with her again this week to talk about this past year..
This piece is not just about Heather, or her mom. It is about focusing on the issues that Heather’s life and death stand for. As an iconic symbol of today’s civil rights movement, I join Susan in saying, “There’s no place for hate.” It is about our country taking on the goal of true social justice and equality, for ALL people.
Susan has taken the money raised by a GoFundMe and used much of it to start Heather Heyer Foundation. They offer scholarships to students who are pursuing their passion for social justice. In addition to her tireless work for the Foundation, she travels the country speaking to groups about her experience, and how we can all make a difference. For Susan, this mission is a great privilege and a great responsibility.
Susan led a very quiet life before last year..when I ask her what has changed, she says, “Everything changed. My hobbies, my interests, my work, my hours..everything.”
Here’s what happened on that day..
On August 12, 2017, Heather Heyer was participating in a peaceful, nonviolent counter protest, which represented the reclaiming of justice, equality and the end of racism in Charlottesville, Virginia. On that day, she was murdered in the name of hate. From that moment, Susan picked up where Heather was forced to leave off – what she died for – and I write this in hopes that we will all join her.
Charlottesville, Virginia City Council ordered the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials from public spaces, and white supremacists and nationalists who were part of the alt-not-right, not-new-Confederates, Not-new-Nazis, Klansmen, and various “militias” weren’t happy about it. They organized a 2-day protest which incited hate, racial tension and incomprehensible violence, from the first day.
Heather Heyer joined peaceful counter protesters in opposition on the second day. That afternoon, in an attack of domestic terrorism, fueled by the hate group of which he was a member, 21-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car through the crowd, killing Heather and injuring many more.
Heather was 32.
There are lots of conspiracy theories flying around the internet which minimize Heather’s death, but the facts are what matter. The fact is that a member of the Nazi Party killed Heather. She did not die of a heart attack. She died of blunt force trauma to the abdomen.
James Alex Fields Jr, who is obviously damaged and disturbed (which by will by no means ever justify his hideous act), deliberately killed her. After he plowed into the crowd, people began banging on his car and smashed the rear windshield in order to stop him from doing any further harm. Until that point, the mood of the crowd of which Heather and her friends were a part was peaceful, jubilant and proud of the statement they’d made that day.
Donald Trump condoned the acts of violence and murder by not admonishing them. His use of “very fine people” and “very bad people — on all sides” was a despicable display of retaining the support of his racist base. He has spent the better part of this week patting himself & Kanye West on the back, rather than to focus on driving the conversation back to repairing and making progress for the Civil Rights Movement in America. Instead, those hate groups have publicly bragged that he has given them a nod and a wink to continue their treachery.
As a memorial in Charlottesville stands as a place for people to come and pay their respects to Heather, the site was vandalized several months ago when someone urinated all over the cards, flowers and messages left there by well-wishers, with a note saying “It’s okay to be white again.” Nevertheless, the wall remains.
Race Relations, 1 Year Later
The state of race relations in the United States has, sadly, not changed, except to become – in many respects – worse this year. When I spoke to Susan Bro about this, she said, “A lot of the same mentality that led to slavery still leads to the marginalization of People of Color today, except it leads to different things now.”
What did come of the violence in Charlottesville was that we no longer have the ability to ignore this issue, because someone died as a direct result of it. We, as a nation, are now forced to acknowledge America’s Truth. So, if we have not yet seen the changes we need to end the marginalization of People of Color, at least there’s that; we cannot turn a blind eye any longer because what was done cannot be undone. What was presented to us on our screens cannot be unseen.
Heather’s motto was “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
“I’m sorry that someone had to die before we paid attention,” Susan told me recently.
She has experienced this first year without Heather (the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, each of their birthdays), this August 12th marks the final “first” as the nation remembers her daughter, and the horrors of that day. The mother of 2 had half of her children taken from her that day.
What could have totally destroyed Susan has truly empowered her. She worked with everyone from grade schools to universities to AIDS Health Foundation. She jokes that she now gives hugs for a living, an absolute plus side. She is determined beyond measure to magnify Heather’s message. Between the Foundation & speaking engagements, the quiet retirement that Susan and her husband were looking forward to has been tabled. There is much to be done and nothing is going to stop this mother’s pure love from making sure people are empowered to get it done.
If you want to make a difference, ask questions, find the Truth, look beyond social media. If you’re protesting this weekend, remain peaceful and aware of your surroundings. There is much to be done, so we have to keep working together to make the necessary changes. When we mobilize, our government is forced to see us. That is how change happens. Let’s be that change!
As an activist and a mother, I was deeply affected by this murder – which happened on my daughter’s 2nd birthday – so I reached out to Susan to ask for an interview. Since we met that day in late January 2018, she has become my dear friend.. I tell you this because it is an example of how we all have the ability to connect.
Her child was taken from her, which is unimaginable, and she could have let that take her into the depths of grief that are paralyzing, but she never saw that as an option. She could have left her story to the big news channels and magazines, but her mission is deeper than that. She saw what I was doing with this activist series on my little blog, and it aligned with what she is doing, and here we are.
If you would like to support Heather Heyer Foundation in their current and future projects to empower young activists in their passion for social justice, please go to: https://www.heatherheyerfoundation.com/donate
Please share this post, far & wide. Let’s work together to be sure that everyone has the opportunity to pay attention & to stop this from happening ever again.
Photos courtesy of Susan Bro