Editor’s note: This column first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, edition of the Dayton Daily News.
We watched a U.S. Marine Corps second lieutenant exchange love promises with our colleague and friend the afternoon the Klan rallied on Courthouse Square.
The union of reporter Holly Shively to Lt. Andrew Beyer in a small Catholic church near Bowling Green University gave my husband and I the perfect excuse to get far away from the storm so many feared would hit Dayton.
Weeks before, people were told to stay away from the square, a gathering spot in the city’s core and site of an 11-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a beardless Abraham Lincoln.
There were fears that what happened in Charlottesville, Va. — the site of a deadly white supremacy rally two Mays before — would hit here.
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There were community dialogues as the community bucketed in its seat.
Heart Mercantile sold anti-racism T-shirts for charity, and gay pride flags and sidewalk chalkboard messages like the Barrel House’s “Get Your Hatin’ Out of Dayton” seemingly popped up everywhere.
The phrase “Hate is not welcome here” hung high on a banner on one of Sinclair Community College’s tallest buildings.
The day came and nine hate group members were shouted down by an estimated 600 anti-racist protesters.
I watched some of it unfold on Facebook Live before our friend said “I do.”
Dayton thankfully was not another Charlottesville.
It comes as no surprise because Dayton can only be Dayton.
I flashed back to the mayhem that did happen when I spoke to Greg Moore, a columnist with the Arizona Republic. We sat at Ned Peppers Bar after national news crews left the Oregon District following the mass shooting here just a little more than two months after the Klan rally.
Greg, a stranger until that moment, was working on a piece about how Dayton and El Paso were healing from the bloody weekend that left 31 dead on Aug. 3 and 4.
Among other things, he wondered how Dayton was different than the growing number of cities attacked by monsters with weapons of war.
It is Dayton is the short answer. But that doesn’t explain anything to people who have never seen this community because communities like this one often go unseen even when people say they’ve looked.
When it comes to funk — the music that helped put Dayton on the map in the ’70s and ’80s — they say there is something in the water.
The Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer flows under our feet and a river that both unites and divides runs through this community.
For better and for worse, together we wade in the waters of the Great Miami River even when things are far too murky and things seem too deep.
Dayton clings to Dayton, and we move toward shore.
Dayton was being Dayton strong before 15 tornadoes ripped roofs off homes and terrorized people hiding in basements and just days before when the Klan tried to dim the Gem City’s shine.
Dayton was being strong when GM’s last truck rolled off the line and when NCR took its cash registers and ran off to Atlanta.
Dayton — city proper and the surrounding municipalities — had no other choice.
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Dayton has to be strong because Dayton is all Dayton’s got.
Dayton knows that the only heroes to Dayton are the people of Dayton.
I watched Dayton hand Dayton water, diapers and homemade sandwiches following the tornadoes.
Dayton cleared roadways, tarped roofs and provided rides and places to sleep.
Even before the smoke completely cleared on that bloody morning in the Oregon District, Dayton stepped in to help Dayton.
Dayton’s police stopped the massacre, but Dayton used towels and rags and shirts as tourniquets on the wounded as responders rushed to the scene.
I watched Dayton surround Dayton in love in the days that followed both tragedies, from celebrities like Dave Chappelle and John Legend to the 500 people who bought lemonade from fourth-graders raising money for shooting victims at a stand in South Park.
Jennifer Brett, a colleague from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, flew to Dayton the morning following the mass shootings to help with coverage.
She’s covered a lot of shootings in her career.
When I asked, Jennifer said mass shootings have an arc and what was happening in Dayton fit that arc.
Perhaps she is right when it comes to the very real mass shooting playbook passed from community to community.
But that’s only part of the story.
Below the surface, Dayton is Dayton and that is something very different from anywhere else.
There is “something” definitely in the water and that something has sustained Dayton as the walls have literally crashed down around it.
That something is spread from heart to heart.
That something cannot be found anywhere else.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amelia Robinson is a reporter, columnist and podcaster for the Dayton Daily News and Dayton.com. Amelia is an Oregon District resident who has been covering the Dayton community for 20 years. She covers topics including dining, nightlife, entertainment and the people, places and things that make Dayton a great place to live, work and play. She is the host of the National Association of Broadcasters Marconi award-nominated podcast “What Had Happened Was …” about the people and places of Dayton. She has been the author of the Smart Mouth column for the Dayton Daily News for 15 years. The column, which appears in Sunday’s Dayton Daily News Life & Arts section, was recognized as the best newspaper column in Ohio this year. Amelia appears on WHIO Radio’s “Miami Valley Morning News” every Friday and “Miami Valley Happenings with Jason Michaels” every Sunday. Amelia is also president and a founding member of the Greater Dayton Association of Black Journalists. She also serves on the boards of the Dayton Sister City Committee and Oregon Historic District Society.
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