Susan Bro, 61, is co-founder of the Heather Heyer Foundation, named for her daughter, who was killed Aug. 12, 2017, while protesting white supremacists in Charlottesville.
When you think about Heather as a child, what image comes first to your mind?
Giggly and bouncy. At dinner in the evenings when she was in school we would say, “Okay, Heather, how was your day?” and then we’d just put our hands in our laps and watch as she’d get out of her chair, stand up and proceed to act out the events of the day. Very animated and dramatic. She was just always excited about what she had to tell you.
At her funeral, you said, “They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her.”
At the time all I was thinking was, you tried to shut her up and I’m going to talk even more than she did. But it has played out even more than that. I realized that we had world attention, so in that way she was magnified. People from all over the world said, Because of Heather I will stand up and speak up. Because of Heather, I’m no longer afraid to take a stand, where before I would sit by idly.
No one would want to become a public figure because of violence that took their child. How have you changed in the past year?
Before this, I was a government employee, so I kind of kept my opinions to myself, a little bit [laughs]. Heather and I were definitely on the same page a lot politically, and when we weren’t, we would talk it out. Now people want my opinion, so fine, I have things to say. It’s not that I never had them before. I’ve always had things to say, just nobody was willing to listen, and now people are asking me, and so I’m speaking. I’m trying to be thoughtful in what I say. I’m trying to take a measured approach.
Last year you said that President Trump “pushes a hateful agenda” and that he bore some of the responsibility for your daughter’s death. Do you still believe that?
I think he’s the symptom of what’s already been going on in the country. I don’t think he caused it. I just think he has given an outlet to it and made it seem okay.
Could he do anything now to make you feel differently?
Always tell the truth, think before he speaks and be accountable for his actions.
I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child. How have you been able to recover from your daughter’s death?
The foundation has definitely been a key part of that, giving me a purpose to do good things in her name. However, I’ve also insisted on staying in charge of the foundation because I don’t want this message to spin out of control. There are people who tried to deify Heather and make her some kind of saint and like she was a leader. She wasn’t. She wasn’t a leader. She was a supporter and ally and an advocate. I just feel it’s up to me to make sure the truth is told and make sure it doesn’t get out of control.
You received death threats when you spoke out after Heather’s death. Is that still happening?
No. I think having Heather as a martyr to the cause actually hurt the white supremacy movement quite a bit, and a second martyr would only make things worse for them. I’m not assuming that some lunatic fringe member might not act out, so we’re cautious. But I don’t live in fear.
Are you hopeful for America right now?
I’m always hopeful for America. We go through rough patches. The question will be: What do we do in the next years, in 2020 and 2024? But a change of administration isn’t going to cure what’s wrong with America. People don’t get elected unless people like what they say or do. We’ve got a great big problem in the country that we’ve got to figure out how to fix.
What is that problem?
There’s a big fear of other people, and there’s a fear that we don’t have enough resources to take care of ourselves. We don’t have enough respect for one another, so there’s a fear of outsiders. And we still haven’t dealt with the racial divide and the racial issues that were created. We had redlining that kept people down, we’ve got the prison pipeline, we’ve got police shootings, cultural misunderstandings, schools are trying to segregate again. The morass is huge. What I think about when I speak is that Heather’s death is a call to action for everyone. Everyone needs to sit up and pay attention. None of this stuff would be happening if we were doing what we’re supposed to. But we get complacent and we get busy and we don’t stop to think about what’s going on around us.
What will be foremost on your mind on Aug. 12?
If I allow myself to think about it, I think how much I miss my girl.