People just kept mailing Heather Heyer’s family money, so her mom started a foundation to support budding activists

December 23, 2017 GMT

In the days after the attack in Charlottesville that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer, money started appearing in the mail.

Envelopes stuffed with cash arrived at her house. They arrived at the law firm where she worked as a paralegal. They arrived at churches, local news outlets, and City Hall.

Knowing that people around the country were thinking of her family comforted Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, but she was also overwhelmed by the sudden deluge. An online fundraiser had already raised $220,000 for funeral and family expenses. They neither needed nor wanted more.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to do something with this,’” Bro said. “It’s not meant for us. It’s meant for us to help people with.”

So Bro, on the suggestion of Heyer’s former manager at Miller Law Group, Alfred Wilson, decided to start a foundation in her late daughter’s name with the mission of providing scholarships to people pursuing careers in social justice.

Heyer always held a strong commitment to social justice, Bro said — the very thing that led her to join the mass of counterprotesters opposing the unprecedented gathering of white nationalists in her hometown on Aug. 12.

Bro and Wilson now serve as co-directors, with Bro managing the foundation out of the firm’s office.

“Basically, people started sending 25, 30, 50 dollars here and there, we had to decide that, since these funds were coming, we need to do something to make use of it,” said Wilson, who hired Heyer to work as a paralegal after being impressed by her outgoing personality.

So far, the foundation has banked about $100,000 and Bro said money still arrives every day, despite the fact that they’re not actively soliciting donations. They received their IRS nonprofit designation this week.

The ultimate goal, Bro said, is to raise enough money to create an endowment large enough that they can use the interest every year to provide scholarships.

Until then, she said the plan for the current school year is to start by giving two high school students in Charlottesville $1,000 each.

“After that, we’ll open it up nationally and anyone can apply — not just high school students,” she said. “So we’ll be looking for people who already have a demonstrated history of social justice activism.”

Bro, who left her job as a bookkeeper and secretary to manage the foundation, said she’s managed her grief in part by pouring herself into both the foundation and the hundreds of speaking engagements and media interviews she’s done since her daughter’s death.

“Doing something positive to make a difference helps,” she said. “I’m a doer and a maker — not someone to wring my hands.”