Upcoming Festival Aims to Defuse Hate, Bring People Together After Violent Summer

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The We Are Here Diversity Festival will be held on April 14 The We Are Here Diversity Festival will be held on April 14
Susan Bro, Heather Heyer's mother Susan Bro, Heather Heyer's mother

A new festival that’s aimed at bringing people of different backgrounds together is making its way to Charlottesville.

The We Are Here Diversity Festival is bringing a pretty strong message along with it, and it’ll be taking place in town in conjunction with the annual Tom Tom celebration.

The event was inspired by August 12 and put together by some of the people who were out on the streets during that deadly rally.

On Wednesday, April 4, Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer - who was killed in the car attack on the day of the rally - announced the big unveil.

“I miss my daughter dreadfully,” says Bro.

It’s now been eight and a half months since Heyer’s death.

“It disturbs me that this is still a problem, in light of the events of August 12,” says Bro. “Are we just not really caring about what happened?”

Heyer was killed during a car attack 4th Street on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall following the Unite the Right rally. Now, her mother is using her legacy to bring people together.

“She wouldn't want a ton of attention focused on her,” says Bro. “What I am doing is trying to direct the focus to activism and to accountability."

And Bro isn't alone in her efforts.

“Charlottesville has been on center stage nationally since last year, and so we're particularly poised to make a statement of diversity and inclusion that resonates within and well beyond our local community,” says Vanessa Braganza, the festival’s organizer.

Braganza was a counterprotestor at last year's rally.

“For my experience, as a woman of color, it was absolutely jarring to experience the racial violence and the hate speech,” says Braganza.

Braganza wants to take strides to not just talk about diversity, but also spur action. That's where the We Are Here Diversity Festival comes in.

Bro will be one of the keynote speakers at the event, along with Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father from Albemarle County who made headlines following his speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Both Bro and Khan lost their children and are well known for speaking out against hate.

“They both really exemplify strong voices that also respect other people,” says Braganza.

The event, which runs in conjunction with the Tom Tom Festival, aims to encourage tolerance while celebrating Charlottesville's diverse community.

“It is a community that is interested in engaging with all of its members, and no amount of intimidation is going to prevent that,” says Braganza.

The festival will take place on Saturday, April 14. There will be mural painting, speeches, and a live performance.