December has been a busy month for Susan Bro.
She attended the preliminary hearing for the man charged with murder in the death of her daughter, Heather Heyer, who was protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
Less than a week later, Bro stood on the spot where Heyer died as the city ceremonially designated Fourth Street as Heather Heyer Way in her honor.
On top of all that and a slew of media inquiries and speaking requests that she manages from an office in the Miller Law Group, where Heyer worked as a paralegal, she works for the foundation named for her daughter.
The Heather Heyer Foundation is one of the many ways Bro has sought to keep her daughter’s memory and mission alive and cope with the loss that thrust her into the spotlight.
“It helps me process my grief by doing this for her legacy, but it’s not about me and what I believe — it’s about what Heather believed,” Bro said. “And, fortunately, we believed the same thing, so I can say it with a clear conscience and straight face.”
The foundation was established in late August to memorialize Heyer and to continue her mission of ensuring equal rights for all. Friends and family described the 32-year-old as a civil rights activist who fought tirelessly for social change.
The idea at first was to use the foundation to fund scholarships for local students who had been accepted into or were enrolled in an ABA-accredited law or paralegal program, or an undergraduate program focused on social work, social justice or education.
But the foundation also hopes to grow into something bigger.
Bro founded the organization with Alfred Wilson, who worked with Heyer at the Miller Law Group. Bro serves as president and chairwoman of the foundation’s board and Wilson is the organization’s executive director.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bro quit her job as a bookkeeper and secretary to manage the foundation.
The foundation received enormous attention at its inception, and Bro was invited to speak at the MTV Music Video Awards on Aug. 27. She was accompanied on stage by the Rev. Robert Lee IV, a pastor from Statesville, North Carolina, who is a distant relative of the Confederate general and speaks often against racism.
In September, Bro was interviewed on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and was given a $50,000 donation to the foundation courtesy of online image publishing company Shutterfly.
Being invited to speak at big events in large venues on behalf of her daughter and social activism was not something Bro expected in the wake of her daughter’s death.
When MTV asked her to speak at the VMAs, Bro said, she still didn’t think anyone really wanted to hear from her.
“I had no idea that the world was really paying that much attention to Heather’s situation at that time,” she said.
The aftermath of her daughter’s death left Bro wandering in a fog, she said, and sleep didn’t come easily.
“I kind of had to be led around by the hand there for a while until I got my feet underneath me on the ground,” she said.
Bro since has become an advocate for Heyer’s beliefs, sharing the message both through the work of the foundation and her speaking engagements.
For most of her life, Bro said, no one asked her to stand up or to speak out. Heyer, she said, was never much of a public speaker, but Bro, who was a teacher, said that part came naturally to her. Now, she’s amplifying her daughter’s voice.
“She was not a public speaker, she was terrified of public speaking,” Bro said. “Loved talking, loved talking to her customers, loved talking to clients, loved talking to coworkers and friends, could be the life of the party. We can’t tell any stories without laughing about her, and all the pictures I pull up are either family or friends.”
The Heather Heyer Foundation recently partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation for a youth essay contest, asking entrants to describe what they are doing to stand up against hate in their community.
Three winners will be given a $5,000 prize and will be invited to participate in the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 1.
“They’re not doing it as a school assignment, they’re doing it on their own,” Bro said. “So we were looking for kids who demonstrated social justice activism in their community in real and meaningful ways. Not just, ‘I wish, I want,’ but what did they actually do?”
The partnership is emblematic of what Bro and Wilson hope the foundation can do beyond scholarships to advocate for positive changes in society.
“Our foundation is already up and moving and promoting social change and encouraging our youth to do just that — stand up, speak your mind and basically ask for equality,” Wilson said.
Justin Marks, a paralegal at the Miller Law Group, met Heyer in high school and the two were close friends.
Watching the foundation grow in such a short time has been amazing to watch, he said.
“I would eventually like it to become one of the biggest equal rights organizations, foundations that exists,” he said. “I think she would be very proud of it.”
When asked what Heyer would think of the foundation, Bro said she hopes her daughter would approve.
“At some point it’s hard to tell how much is her and how much is me,” she said. “I definitely am doing this for me … because this is important to me.”
Bro said she plans to stay with the foundation and continue her child’s social justice mission.
I had a reporter ask me, ‘When are you going to just let other people handle all this?’ I said, ‘And do what? Go home and cry?’” she said. “This is how I make some sense of what happened to my kid.”