September 11th, 2001 left an indelible mark on our nation’s history. On that day, we took a solemn pledge to those who lost their lives to terror: we promised to never forget. Now, we face a crossroads. A new generation of Americans is coming into adulthood, all of whom were born after that dark day. It is now up to us, the witnesses to history, to choose whether we want to honor that pledge made 22 years ago, or allow it to fall by the wayside. That is precisely why we are sponsors of a New York City Council resolution that would ensure our nation will remember those who lost their lives and the sacrifices made to protect others by designating September 11th as a federal holiday.
Such a tragic moment must be commemorated for future generations, so that they may truly understand its lasting impact. Tributes of remembrance began immediately after the towers fell, and in April of 2002, New York City and State jointly announced the formation of the September 11th Memorial Competition. This competition called upon the creative community to submit memorial ideas that would honor the lives lost in the attacks of 9/11 as well as during the 1993 attack at the World Trade Center site. “By taking part in this competition,” they wrote “you have already helped to heal our City and demonstrate once again, New York does not stand alone.”
In June 2003, over 13,000 designs from all over the world were submitted. As a lower Manhattan small business owner whose business had been devastated by the attacks and who founded a nonprofit focused on rebuilding downtown, Council Member Julie Menin served as one of 13 members of a jury that would select a design for Ground Zero. The memorial jury had the herculean task of narrowing down a collection of ideas that represented the largest design competition in history. By January 2004 we had reached a consensus: Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s Reflecting Absence was announced as the winner.
Despite monuments and memorials being commissioned to remember 9/11, the vast majority of states do not require any educational curriculum about that day. Only 15 states have continued to memorialize this tragic day by passing legislation recognizing the importance of September 11th including New York State which allows for a moment of silence in schools and encourages classroom discussion.
Recently, two school-aged children Alexa and Anthony Gennaro from Belle Harbor, Queens, approached the New York City Council. They were not alive for the tragedy, but worried the memory of their aunt, Lucy Ann Fishman–a woman whom they had never met but perished in the towers–would be forgotten by future generations. Their concern that their aunt–and the thousands of others who lost their lives that day–would be forgotten struck a chord and made it clear that something must be done to preserve their legacy and ensure that we all honor our promise of the past.
Signing into law the September 11th Day of Remembrance Act, would not only be a day of mourning to remember the lost, but it would be a day of unity as well. In the aftermath of that tragedy, we forgot all that separated us, and we truly came together as a nation. It is our hope that by making September 11th a national holiday, we can once again rekindle that spirit of togetherness felt that afternoon and in the days and months that followed. The establishment of a holiday, based on our unity, is what we need to heal the rifts in the fabric of our society.
This September 11th, New Yorkers will again gather to remember the lives that were lost. Whether in the Upper East Side’s Carl Schurz Park or Rockaway Beach’s Tribute Park, we join with our fellow New Yorkers of every background and we remember. The unity felt on this one day each year transcends all boundaries, and it is that unity that we must spread throughout the rest of the country as a national holiday so that Americans everywhere can remember those oft-forgotten bonds that can never be broken. It is that commonality, and that pledge made 22 years ago, that reminds us all that September 11th must become a federal holiday.
Council Member Julie Menin served on the Jury for the World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition and continues to serve on the Board of Trustees of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Council Member Joann Ariola is the prime sponsor of legislation calling on Congress to pass the September 11th Day of Remembrance Act and is Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management.
“It is now up to us, the witnesses to history, to choose whether we want to honor that pledge made 22 years ago, or allow it to fall by the wayside.” City Council Members Julie Menin and Joann Ariola