Friday, September 15, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Susan Bro:"They tried to kill my child to shut her up"

On August 13, Susan Bro lost her child in an unimaginable fashion, after her daughter Heather Heyer was struck by a car as she participated in a counter-protest rally against white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer's death was the coda for a weekend of anger and outrage that spilled over to the rest of the nation.

Eulogies are notoriously difficult for speakers, especially if they involve the death of a loved one. It is remarkable that Bro was up to the challenge just days after her daughter's shocking death, in the middle of a very public debate over violence and blame in Charlottesville. Her seven-minute speech for Heyer's memorial service was both a tender remembrance and a stunning call to action.

It also was a tribute to how outspoken Heyer herself was about her beliefs, and a sharp rebuke to those who tried to silence her. One of the most memorable lines from Bro's speech, which led to a standing ovation, was this: "They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her."

There's a lot to unpack and to admire in this simple speech. What can you learn from Bro's eulogy for Heyer?
  • Think about what a personal story can do within a eulogy. It's not surprising to include personal details in a speech like this, but Bro also used her remembrance to create a theme for the eulogy. She talked about the dinner table debates launched by her daughter, and how they were sometimes so uncomfortable that they drove Heyer's father out to the car to seek peace in a video game. This story does a remarkable job of tying the personal aspects of Heyer's life to the larger political issues that dominated Charlottesville on the weekend that she was killed.
  • Bring eloquence to a eulogy with plain speaking. Throughout the speech, Bro urges her listeners to continue Heyer's work for justice, telling the audience that "you need to find in your heart that small spark of accountability." Eulogies for famous people--as Heyer unfortunately became--often ask for action from their audiences, but the language here is particularly blunt and therefore striking. Some of my favorite admonitions from Bro include, "You poke that finger at yourself, like Heather would have done, and you make it happen." and of course the final line of the speech, "I'd rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we're going to make it count."
  • Encourage women speakers--before they become women. It's both heartbreaking and inspiring to hear Bro share how much listening she did in the short time she had with her daughter, and how often she encouraged her to speak, by engaging in those dinner table discussions, hanging in there when the topics got tough or voices were raised. It sounds like such a simple thing to do, but the mere act of listening to girls when they speak, and allowing them to express their opinions, can create a woman who isn't afraid to raise her voice--and who can never be silenced.
The full video of Bro’s eulogy is here and below:

(Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this Famous Speech Friday post.)

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