Fifteen days after Heather Heyer was killed protesting a massive rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville, her mother, Susan Bro, announced the creation of a non-profit foundation in her name “that will provide scholarships to help more people join Heather’s fight against hatred.” And she did so at an unusual place and time: During the MTV Video Music Awards, after being introduced by a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statute the white supremacists in Charlottesville were ostensibly rallying to preserve.
The MTV VMAs were a largely forgettable affair, overshadowed nationally by the ongoing devastation of Tropical Storm Harvey and pop culturally by the season finale of Game of Thrones. (GoT was clearly on the minds of producers, as host Katy Perry, dressed in Khaleesi gear, dedicated a mid-show bit to welcoming HBO viewers back to MTV.)
Kendrick Lamar opened the show with a performance so good that, in a tweet that was probably more on the nose than they intended, MTV deemed itself “not worthy” of him. (He also took home the biggest award of the night, Video of the Year, for “Humble.”) Save for some clunky jokes in Perry’s monologue, few speakers commented on politics directly, with the most pointed language coming from the first presenter, Paris Jackson, who insisted “we must show these Nazi white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville, and all over the country, that as a nation with liberty as our slogan, we have zero tolerance for their violence and their hatred and their discrimination. We must resist.”
Bro was on hand to present a new social justice award, dubbed the “Fight Against the System” award, that was created by the network this past spring. MTV gave out the inaugural trophy at its updated version of the MTV Movie Awards (which now include television); Sunday night marked the first Fight Against the System VMA.
Reverend Robert Lee IV, Lee’s descendant, took the stage to introduce Bro.
“My name is Robert Lee IV. I am a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence in Charlottesville. We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin. Today, I call on all of us, with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women’s March in January, and especially Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville. It is my distinct honor to introduce Susan Bro, Heather Heyer’s mother, who is continuing to magnify Heather’s work.”
Bro followed, sending viewers to a new website for the Heather Heyer Foundation.
“I’ve been deeply moved to see people across the world—the whole world—find inspiration in her courage,” Bro said of her daughter. “Today, I’m announcing the launch of the Heather Heyer Foundation, a non-profit organization that will provide scholarships to help more people join Heather’s fight against hatred. Please visit our website to help me make Heather’s death count.”
She went on to say that, in the spirit of Heather, who “never marched alone” but who “was always joined by people of every race and every background in this country,” MTV would decline to select a winner and instead choose to honor all six Best Fight Against the System nominees:
Through their diversity, these six videos show there are many ways to take action and many battlegrounds in the fight for social good. Big Sean decried violence. Alessia Cara spoke out about body shaming. The Hamilton Mixtape and John Legend both took on the targeting of immigrants. Logic and Damien Lemar Hudson celebrated diversity. Taboo and Shailene Woodley rebelled against government exploitation. I congratulate all these artists on their VMA tonight, and I look forward to the important work that they, and all of you, will do together to make the world a better, kinder place.
Bro has been outspoken in the two weeks since her daughter was killed, and recently told MSNBC that she has received some death threats in return.