When neo-Nazi James A. Fields, Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at the 2017 Unite the Right rally and killed her daughter, Susan Bro transformed her pain into a pathway.
Five years and thousands of higher education scholarships for Albemarle and Fluvanna County students later, Bro’s Heather Heyer Foundation and its board of directors have announced that the foundation will no longer accept donations.
While the foundation has proved a pillar of support for higher education in the region, it has had its toll.
“I’m just exhausted. I had heart attacks in January. I had COVID last August,” Bro said. “I’m not a fundraiser. We did bring in a fair amount of money and it will stay in the community to be used for positive activism.”
In addition to her health issues, Bro said a lack of consistent financial support, fewer and fewer student applicants and a board of directors stretched too thin also contributed to the decision. The Foundation did not receive any applications from Albemarle County students and awarded the only award in the past year to a Fluvanna County student.
Since 2017 Bro, a former Greene County educator of more than 25 years, become a public speaker, a philanthropist, a fundraiser and the president and board chair of the Heather Heyer Foundation. She’s ready to let the foundation rest.
“I feel like it was just its time. I’m still an activist and still speaking up and still trying to make a difference where I can,” Bro said. “I’ve always said Charlottesville has a very strong activist community. They don’t need me. I don’t live there.”
Bro founded the organization with Heyer’s former supervisor, Charlottesville attorney Alfred A. Wilson when an anonymous supporter created a GoFundMe to honor Heyer’s memory. On the day of her daughter’s funeral, Bro realized that the campaign reached $250,000 with thousands of small donations of $5, $10 and $20 donations from all around the world.
With her experience as an educator and Wilson’s experience organizing scholarship groups with his fraternity, Bro found the most natural use for all of that money was a scholarship foundation.
The GoFundMe allowed the foundation to offer $1,000 awards to dozens of local students with big college dreams.
But interest in the scholarships and the foundation have been winding down. Bro has been in cardiac rehabilitation for most of this year and is eager to continue recovering from long COVID after her bout with the virus.
She said Heyer never intended to be the symbol of activism but that changed When Fields, who drove from Ohio to attend the rally, drove his car into a crowd at a downtown intersection. Heyer was killed and dozens more seriously injured.
“Heather is by no means the focus of race relations in Charlottesville. She didn’t go there to be killed, she went there to walk. She stayed away from violent confrontation that day with a large group of other people who did likewise,” Bro said. “She was actually the sole murder out of an attempted mass murder.”
In 2019, the Charlottesville Circuit Court convicted Fields and sentenced him to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Heyer along with eight counts of malicious wounding and a hit and run. He received another life sentence after he pled guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges.