Ryleigh Manuel spent part of summer longing for pools she’d never swim in and trips her mom couldn’t take her on.
Who can blame her.
No trip to Disney.
No water park.
No road trip.
It was an unavoidable disappointment.
Ryleigh’s mom, Kelly Watts, used most of her vacation time from work trying to reclaim a life knocked back on its heels by the most ferocious of 15 Memorial Day tornadoes.
Ryleigh had to be strong for her mom.
The grit at this city’s core and her mother’s conviction no doubt helped the spunky kid when she learned that Thomas McNichols, a much-loved custodian at her old school, was among those killed during the mass shooting Aug. 4 in the Oregon District.
The lives of nine beloved souls - and so much more - was lost that morning.
Yet so much good stuff stood strong.
Punched to the ground and then kicked in the soul, Dayton rose to its feet.
Some of the same businesses that weeks before sold “Dayton Strong” T-shirts and held fundraisers to help tornado victims fell into the very arms of some of people they helped.
Dayton was strong for Dayton and Dayton and the world noticed.
A a week ago today, Dayton shined in the face on a fear when Dave Chappelle invited his famous friends to town and an estimated 30,000 of us showed up to reclaim some of what was lost and rejoice in the spirit that could not be broken.
Ryleigh stood strong earlier that day.
Hours before Gem City Shine, the beads in her braided hair swayed as she rocked with rapper Kanye West at his Sunday service at Riverscape MetroPark in support of those impacted by the mass shooting.
The little girl from Trotwood kept time with the star.
A smile on face.
Ryleigh’s mom says a friend recruited her and Ryleigh’s dad, Trae Manuel, to sing in the Sunday service choir.
“It wasn’t the intent for Ryleigh to sing, but she had to come to rehearsals with me. She also sings, so she started learning the songs along with me,” Kelly explained. “Kanye’s people gave the go ahead for her to sing Sunday morning, and his people had her come to the front right behind Kanye.”
Ryleigh, a member of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church’s children’s choir and the Anointed Dance Academy, clapped and bopped next to one of the most recognizable men in the world.
Friends from all around the country sent Kelly screen grabs of Ryleigh showing Dayton’s strength.
Kelly captured the moment herself.
“It was great to see a smile on her face,” Kelly told me.
“Great” is also the word that best describes the sea of Dayton that flocked into the Oregon District a week ago to show that fear can’t beat Dayton’s strength.
That earnest spirit guided this city during the flood of 1913 and for 117 years before that.
It was with us when the GM closed and when NCR moved away.
It steadied the community when the klan came to town in May and when the tornadoes hit a few days later.
It held our hands when a 24-year-old with a weapon of war unleashed terror on the good people.
Turns out terror is nothing compared to this town.
Ryleigh did not hit the pool or take an awesome trip this summer.
She did something better.
She helped define Dayton strong for all the world to see.
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