Volume 22, Number 19 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 18 - 24, 2009

Fifth grader Cecilia Gault, who was 2 years old on 9/11, sang “Imagine” accompanied by Lisa Ecklund-Flores of Church Street Music School at last week’s community ceremony.

Community marks eighth anniversary with quiet ceremony

By Helaina N. Hovitz

A hurricane threatened to blow the microphone off the stage, and stray drops threatened to rain out the Sept. 11 community remembrance ceremony that Bob Townley, executive director and founder of Manhattan Youth, organized for Downtown community members, but the storm stayed away right up until the end.

As kids wrapped up their soccer games the day Sept. 10, resident and musician Bob Horan started off on a high note with a lighthearted folk song, and everyone gathered a little closer together in front of the makeshift stage created from Rockefeller Plaza.

His next song, “If I Had a Hammer,” prompted most of the older crowd to sing along with smiles on their faces. Parks patrol stopped to watch as more people filed in, including a few faces from P.S. 150, board members and several residents of Southbridge. (Full disclosure: this writer helped Manhattan Youth organize the ceremony.)

“We lost a lifestyle that had a sense of security to it, and we saw how the effects of terror were able to bring discomfort to our neighborhood,” said pastor William Grant as he took the stage. “If we had lost hopefulness it would have been understandable, but we weren’t able to turn there for long because of the remarkable vitality of this neighborhood.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver arrived at 6:50 p.m., but all were so engrossed in Grant’s speech that the swarm of people that almost always flock him upon arrival stayed put. He told me he had just come in from Washington to be there that night because of, “how important it is for us to be here in defiance of those who wanted us to be desolated.”

Silver presented a proclamation for the community in commemoration of the event. He remembered the teachers leading 8,000 students safely out of harm’s way, and recalled the sight of Lady Liberty standing tall in the darkness and smoke.

“The strength and glory of our community is found in the diversity of our people. Let’s stand together with knowledge that they can’t crush our spirit,” Silver said.

Several others got up to speak next, including Imam Mustapha Senghor, director of the Harlem Islamic Cultural Center, whose story of charity and acceptance brought tears to the eyes of many. Candles were then handed out, and all were asked to remember in whatever way they saw fit.

Cecilia Gault, a fifth grader at P.S. 89, closed out the show with her own rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” She has been a student at Church St. School of Music for four years.

“We were living in Gateway when it happened, and it was important for me to sing tonight because even though I was 2 years old when it happened, I was still here for it,” Gault said. She just recently found that she has been accepted to the Professional Performing Arts School.

Rabbi Glass blew a shofar, and all went on their way, perhaps a little more lighthearted than when they came.

The next day, Grant sent an e-mail to all the participants, expressing the personal effect the gathering had on him. “As I watched the Reading of the Names Ceremony this morning — and my wife and I lit our candles from last night — I felt so much more grounded in the observance, so much more connected to it because of our ceremony yesterday evening.”





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