Under a clear blue sky reminiscent of the morning on the same date 20 years ago, Upper East Side residents gathered together at sunrise Saturday for a solemn commemoration of the events of September 11 at Carl Shurz Park, reflecting on all that was lost and all that has been rebuilt in the two decades following the devastating terror attack in Downtown Manhattan.
The event served as a return to a tradition taken up in the first years following 9/11, bringing together New Yorkers from across the city and community. Saturday’s ceremony was hosted by Howard Teich and Julie Menin, a current candidate for City Council and former Community Board 1 chair who served in the aftermath of 9/11.
“When I look back and reflect on the events of September 11, it inspired me to abandon my career and to dedicate myself to rebuilding Lower Manhattan and our city, which led to life of public service,” said Menin. “And as our city once again, struggles through tragedy and through crisis, we can look to the perseverance, the unity and the dedication to rebuilding our city once again as a beacon ... 20 years after 9/11, to honor those lives, and the sacrifices of so many, I stand before you to say, let us recommit to ensure that the tragedy will never happened again.”
Bookended by musical performances, a slew of public officials – including state Assembly Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, state Sen. Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, former mayoral candidate and city commissioner Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, and Rev. Al Sharpton – community leaders and business owners offered recollections of the day as well as messages of moving forward out of another devastating crisis in COVID-19.
Sharpton, as did others, noted that Sept. 11, 2001 happened to fall on the day of the primary election for mayor and other citywide offices.
“It was a time when we all had taken sides and had passionately campaigned for our candidate. Now remember that morning, I was at a subway stop in Brooklyn, campaigning for my candidate of choice,” said Sharpton. “We got word that the planes had hit the Twin Towers ... and we couldn’t get the cause across the bridge, the trains were shut down; so we ended up walking to my headquarters in Harlem. And as I walked, I thought about we were all under siege, we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
In the days that followed, Sharpton said, he thought more and more about the commonalities of the people who lived in the United States and New York, rather than all of the issues that divided Americans.
“The terrorist that took the lives of people here and in Washington in Virginia, they saw us as one: as Americans that were expendable,” he said. “They saw us the way we did not see ourselves. And I thought about the fact that if we could all die together, then maybe we should try to live together.”
In her remarks, Krueger compared the toll of 9/11 to the toll of COVID-19, and the city’s need to recover.
“There were people who lost themselves, people who couldn’t imagine staying in New York City. There were people saying, ‘New York City will never come back, it will never be the same.’ Well, we’re never the same. We’re always changing. But we came back,” said Krueger. “And why I think that is so crucial to think about today is we’re in our own 20-years-later crisis with COVID. Obviously, one is a disease, and that was an attack, but [COVID] is also an attack on us, physically and psychologically. And there were people who fled New York City, and who said it won’t come back. But we know that we will; we will be different. We will learn lessons. A lot of people are dying – far more than on 9/11. But we know that in unity and using the skill sets we have, we will get past this pandemic.”
The senator also encouraged attendees to get vaccinated, if not already, and to encourage others to do the same.
USNR Captain Jeremy Butler, who serves as CEO of the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, reminded those in attendance not to forget the first responders who put their lives at risk to save others.
“There are still hundreds of 9/11 first responders who are sick, dying and not getting the health care that they earned, they deserve, and that their government promised them,” said Butler. “That continues to this day. So much more needs to be done to give them the benefits that they earned.”
“As our city once again, struggles through tragedy and through crisis, we can look to the perseverance, the unity and the dedication to rebuilding our city once again as a beacon.” City Council candidate Julie Menin