Mere hours after a Dayton funk music legend entertained thousands there, Levitt Pavilion at Dave Hall Plaza hosts a prayer vigil for those killed and injured in the Oregon District mass shooting.

#DaytonStrong tested as region copes with another huge blow

On Facebook, a friend writes: “I think I’m becoming less okay. Maybe the shock is wearing off or exhaustion is taking over.”

On a bar’s sandwich-board sign not far from where the shooting happened: “It’s okay to not be okay.”

An out-of-state friend emails: “I can feel the incredulity and the gutted-out grief and rage and stress all the way here. When I read the words ‘Dayton shooting,’ I blink and ask myself if it’s real.”

Last week, Dayton’s reality was a sharing of sadness, of confusion and loss.

Nine families were planning funerals. National news trucks prowled our neighborhoods. Sidewalk memorials sprouted. People hugged cops. The blood of innocents was hosed off the street.

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And all after so many other local traumas: The Klan-affiliated hate group that tried to poison our downtown. The 15 tornadoes that tore through our neighborhoods. The seemingly endless rains that kept farmers from their fields. The criminal corruption charges that stunned many. All piled on our community within the space of a few short months.

And then an armed, disturbed young man destroyed so many lives. The killings a week ago pushed our city into the middle of the nation’s long-running, maddening debate about guns and what should, or should not, be done with them.

Through all this, “Dayton Strong” has re-emerged on signs, shirts and social posts. The slogan is being truly tested this summer. Many people acknowledge that they feel upset, off; they hope time will somehow get us back to normal — while still wondering what that feels like now.

“There’s no right way to respond,” said Lauren White, the executive director of UpDayton. “We must remember to be kind and gentle with how each of us chooses to feel.”

READ MORE: Residents thank Dayton police: ‘This is literally Dayton’s finest’

There seems to be a sense in the community that there is much to be proud of in the way people have responded to the hammering of repeated, frequent hits. And yet, some say that there is a distinct difference between the impact of last weekend’s mass shooting and the traumas before it.

The next steps aren’t as clear-cut this time. How do you respond to a mass shooting? People hope Dayton will become a more caring and united place, but how does that happen?

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said part of it will involve a community conversation about mental health. While the tornadoes definitely caused emotional trauma, most of their harm was to property. The effects of Sunday’s violence, she said, will be long lasting and not as visible. “We are going to do a lot of talking about mental health over the next couple of months,” she said.

“My energy will be focused on rebuilding and affirming that Dayton is a resilient and loving community,” UpDayton’s White said. “Life is a marathon and change does not happen overnight. We may feel paralyzed or helpless at times, but every action matters from checking on a friend to exercising your right to vote or spending time in gratitude for what we do have.”

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James Collins, who owns Gem City Tattoo Club, said he decided to reopen his business a day after the shooting because he wasn’t going to let a lone psychopath change the district. He patched up his storefront window where a bullet may have ricocheted, but likely won’t replace the glass because he wants it to serve as a reminder of the shooting.

Last Sunday night’s Fifth Street vigil was an important first step, because so many people felt comfortable to come back to the district, said Lori Cicero, an attorney whose offices are a block from the shooting site.

“We need to remind people the Oregon District is just a place where this occurred, but it’s not represented by this violent act,” she said.

This type of violence can happen anywhere and “must not paralyze us,” she said. “It’s like getting on an airplane after 9/11 — you have to find the strength and courage to not to be paralyzed by the fear of what can happen in daily life.”

Similarly, the Rev. Peter Matthews of McKinley United Methodist Church in Dayton said it’s important for people to find or create a place where they can feel safe. The past few months, he said, “have left our city vulnerable while looking for safety and refuge like never before. Looking for sanctuary.

READ MORE: Video shows tense conversation that ends in hug as mourners gather outside Dayton shooting memorial

“Sanctuary in its strictest definition is a space of refuge or safety. It has nothing to do with religion or dogma. Real sanctuary is where our myriad humanity should be seen and celebrated,” he said. “Barbershops, beauty shops, and NA/AA meetings have long provided third spaces where the field is level and the banter is comical. What might we create without a task force in the 937? Our emotional carnage is still close to our rearview, but our need for sanctuary is undeniable. We need a space for deep listening and loud laughter for everyone, and to affirm each other enough to soar high enough to feel #DaytonStrong and safe in Dayton simultaneously.”

One local resident said we should try to see recent events in a larger way. “Our future is determined by how we respond to our present,” said Peter Benkendorf, founder and director of the Collaboratory, a Dayton non-profit that fosters ideas and networking.

“Over the past two months, three challenging events have cast a shadow on our community and the community has responded with a sense of purpose and unity. The real opportunity, I believe, is how we as a community respond to the challenges highlighted in last September’s ‘Frontline’/ProPublica documentary, ‘Left Behind America,’ which made Dayton the poster child for what has happened to far too many of our great American cities and the people who live there — they have been left behind.

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“The most recent Well-Being Index, published by the Gallup Organization in March 2018, ranked Dayton 144 out of 186 cities. What if we could show the same sense of resolve and purpose to re-imagine our community so that Dayton’s rank is in the top 10%? What would the region look and feel like then? We have seen what we are capable of. Now is the time to come together to determine our future.”

Dayton Daily News reporter Mark Fisher, who’s lived in the area most of his life, also harked back to how the community felt after the “Frontline” report.

“This town just simply refuses to allow our community to be defined by negative forces, whether they come from outside or from within our community,” Fisher said. “We push back until we’re recognized for what our response was to the tragedy, rather than for the tragedy itself.”

After the latest tragedy, plenty of people have made it a point to go back and walk along Fifth Street. Perhaps the best thing, after the shock wears off, is to not  let the exhaustion set in.

This letter, signed only with the initials “E.F,” was posted last week outside a bar near the shooting site:

“Let our blood-stained street scream our need for peace. In the midst of our anger, let us show love to a stranger. Let compassion be our present and strength be our future. We rallied against hate. We stood up to Mother Nature. We will defeat terror with community. #DaytonStrong. Love always.”

Attached to it was a yellow Post-It Note with a handwritten addendum: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward. We rise by lifting others every day.”

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