I’ve lived in Charlottesville, Virginia for many years. My father taught at UVA until this past spring . My brother, husband, brother-in-law and I all attended the University (yes, we capitalize it- we’re pretentious to the point of parody.) It’s where I met my husband and where we were eventually married. My young daughters often have picnics on the UVA Lawn, stuffing themselves with buttered bagels from Bodos and frozen yogurt from Arch’s (Just not the same now that it’s self-serve.) We tailgate with friends before football games in the fall and lounge at wineries in the spring. The downtown mall is where we go for outdoor concerts on Friday nights and for ice cream after preschool.
I love this town. I love my school. Like most (hint: all) of America, we have much work to do to compensate for a complicated and often shameful history of racism and inequality, but I know many people in this town working to do just that.
I love my town.
I love the fact that over a thousand people showed up last month with flowers and signs, draped in rainbow flags, singing hymns, and hanging origami cranes from tree branches when a small group of KKK members from North Carolina marched through our streets because we decided to remove a statue that was causing hurt and pain to many of our citizens. I love that many more people showed up last week when a much larger group of people with hate in their hearts invaded our town with guns and knives and shields. I love that so many showed up to say unequivocally that hate and bigotry and racism aren’t welcome here.
Unlike much of the country, we knew they were coming, and we knew it would be bad. We knew there might be fights, that people might get hurt.
It was worse.
And now my town is a hashtag. And we will forever be known as the place where violent racism reared its ugly head and screamed at America so loudly that no one could pretend they didn’t hear. People who know nothing about this town will hear its name and forever think of hoods and swastikas and terror.
But I love my town.
And I love the people here. The broken, horrified, devastated people. The people who will never be the same. The people who spent this week mourning at a makeshift memorial for a young woman who stood up for what she believed and paid the ultimate price.
If we have to be a hashtag, to stand for something, then I hope we will stand for the day when this dangerous tide began to turn. When ordinary people all around the country opened their eyes and realized the time for silence was over, that it has been over for a long time.
I love my town. And I will forever fight to make it a place that is tolerant, and loving, and safe, and fair to all.
I hope you will do the same for yours.