Annual 9/11 event offers perspective for all


BY Michael Mandelkern

Manhattan Youth hosted its annual 9/11 event, drawing adults, families and children who sat somberly in a circle and shared their thoughts and feelings about the tragic day.

Visitors spoke amongst themselves to the backdrop of Manhattan Youth’s in-house band. The atmosphere turned even more somber once Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, began the event and transitioned into a poetry reading by Lawrence Joseph of Poets House.

Joseph made direct and vivid references to the explosion created by the first plane’s impact into the North Tower, recalling falling debris and eyewitness accounts of the mass hysteria.

“The evening was intended to help people understand what causes violence and how do we prevent it,” said Townley.

Christa Victoria sang songs with a theme of inspiration and moving beyond the trauma of the fateful day. Her performance and the poetry reading received light yet respectful applause; the audience kept an intent focus.

Reverend William Grant of the Tribeca Spiritual Center, a facilitator of the event, discussed how the community could remember 9/11 but also renew and rebuild.

“Love the person who is different from you,” said Grant.

Former Council Member Alan Gerson, who helped found the annual event, recalled that it was Election Day and he was in front of P.S. 234 in the early morning. Suddenly, he was helping escort children out of the school.

“There was a combination of fright and bewilderment in their faces,” said Gerson.

Deb Summerville, a Battery Park City resident, recalled that her son was only two-and-a-half years old that year and in Trinity Preschool. She then showed a picture of his class from that year, highlighting its ethnic and religious diversity and contrasting it with the religious intolerance that has surfaced over the summer as a result of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” issue.

The discussion then took a political turn. People raised their hands to speak out against those who oppose Park51 but also to suggest that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative, welcome residents of all faiths and backgrounds should the center move forward.

While Townley supports the proposed Islamic Center, he expressed empathy for some of those who oppose the project.

“I am hopeful that a multicultural peace center can be built. However, it must be said that if my child or relative would have died, I am not sure what my reaction would be,” said Townley.

Frustration over the controversy that has gripped the Lower Manhattan community in recent weeks began to materialize. Some became annoyed; the discussion had become more upsetting than peaceful.

Townley then interjected, speaking of self-accountability.

“We can’t hold the weight of the world on these Park Place Muslims. We are now holding them to a standard we don’t hold ourselves to,” he said.

Trying to offer a different perspective, Townley said the Park51 issue could ultimately empower the community.

Community Board 1 member Tom Goodkind, reminded everyone why they were there in the first place.

“We’re here because we all love each other,” said Goodkind. “I’ve never seen human beings so self-sacrificing [as on 9/11].”

Then Diane Lapson, president of the Independence Plaza Tenants Association, remarked on the feeling of solidarity following the terrorist attacks

“The beauty of humanity came out [after 9/11],” said Lapson.

Townley echoed her sentiments.

“I think those that lived here witnessed something never before seen on our soil. The experience of 9/11 is very different when you know people who died,” said Townley.