I am a student at the University of Virginia, getting ready to start my fourth year. When I looked up to see my city in the news Saturday morning, my heart dropped.
I was in line to check out of my hotel before catching a flight back to Virginia when I saw on CNN, “BREAKING NEWS: STATE OF EMERGENCY IN VA AND VIOLENT WHITE NATIONALIST PROTESTS.” The video showed a crowd of people coming from the left and right sides, meeting in the middle with punches. Men in black shirts carrying shields charged from the right. To the left a woman was punched. In the top corner of the TV Screen: Charlottesville, Virginia.
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This wasn’t happening in a poor foreign country. This wasn’t in a big city hundreds of miles away from my family and friends. This was happening down the street from my apartment.
I have been reporting and helping other reporters tell the story of the controversy surrounding the Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson statues since summer of 2015. I’ve listened to every opinion on the subject, but after this weekend I believe that Americans have been shown their answer. We can no longer deny the symbol of white supremacy that the statues are for these men when they chant “Blood and Soil” – a Nazi Germany chant – and “Jews will not replace us.”
As an African American woman, I already know that I am everything they hate. I am light-skinned with German ancestry. I am an exact representation of the “white genocide” they fear. That did not stop me from driving back to Charlottesville Sunday night. I ignored family members and friends who told me not to go. I held my breath as I drove past the rotunda, trying to imagine what it looked like when hundreds of men with torches marched on it.
I drove straight to the vigil for Heather Heyer, who was killed when a man drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters. At that vigil I was reminded what Charlottesville is really about. I was surrounded by a crowd of varying ethnicities, religions, shapes and styles. I stood next to a woman with purple hair while holding hands with a woman in a wheelchair in front of candles, flowers and a photo of Heyer. A small group of people, including a man who was also hit by the car, came to the center of the crowd in purple shirts that had Heyer’s face and her words before her death, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” The crowd sang and a couple brave people spoke up on how Charlottesville needs to come together as a family. “This is not their town.” “This, this gathering is Charlottesville.”
Charlottesville has not been perfect while I have attended the University of Virginia. Traumatic things have happened my past three years that have put my school and town on national news. Each tragedy that happens, however, only shows me how strong, loving and supportive the students at the University of Virginia, and people of Charlottesville, really are. The neo-Nazis and the violence they brought are not representative of the people here. They came from across the United States. What happened in Charlottesville was a reality check for all of America.
This event has woken Charlottesville up, and I hope it has woken the entire U.S. up. I will continue to fight against injustice my own way as an aspiring reporter. Whatever your way of fighting back, do it, whether it’s through art, getting involved in politics, protesting or calling your senators. We are up against a group of people powered by hatred, but I hope that the people in this country who are empowered by love and a desire for equality will prove that we are in the majority, and stronger than them.
Brianna Hamblin, an intern at the Charlotte Observer this summer, is entering her senior year at the University of Virginia.