East Harlem Remembers 911By Leon Tulton
By Leon Tulton
East Harlem, September 8, 2007. East Harlem residents and members of law enforcement impacted by the September 11th terrorist attack six years ago gathered last Saturday at the community’s first annual memorial ceremony to remember those lost by the tragedy. Attendees stood in silence and reverence as members of the New York City Police Department’s color guard (the department’s ceremonial escort) opened the ceremony carrying the U.S. and New York City flags under the blare of the national anthem.
Reverend Gilberto Lopez, the 23rd Precinct’s clergy liaison, explained that he organized the community memorial ceremony to give East Harlemites a venue to remember those they lost in their own community. He stated that although East Harlem residents affected by the 2001 tragedy observe the citywide 9-11 memorial ceremony each year, they may not feel connected because the media usually overemphasize 9-11 as affecting only those in downtown Manhattan. “We want to make a statement that not only downtown people were affected, but uptown workers and families as well,” Reverend Lopez commented about East Harlem’s first annual memorial event. “The whole idea [of this event] is to bring the community to one accord.”
Representatives from law enforcement spoke about the importance of continuously honoring both uniformed and civilian victims who perished on September 11, 2001 when two passenger airplanes hijacked by terrorists were flown into the World Trade Center towers, resulting in approximately 2,974 deaths. “We must never forget 9-11 and never forget those who laid down their lives for us,” Reverend Jay Gooding, executive director of Chaplains Helping in Police Situations, a chaplain group formed shortly after 9-11, said. Captain Eddie Carrasco, executive officer of the 23rd Precinct expressed how 9-11, despite the tremendous horror associated with the day, had another unexpected effect. “Instead of breaking us down and separating us, the terrorists brought us together and made us stronger,” he said describing the resilience of New Yorkers.
When asked to reflect on how 9-11 impacted on their lives, members of law enforcement who attended the ceremony shared their stories with this reporter. Trooper E. J. Herrera of the New York State Police described how his fellow troopers felt the loss of local police officers at the World Trade Center. “In law enforcement, we’re one big family so whenever there’s any loss, it hurts all of us,” he said. “Everyone was down, not just as [members of] law enforcement, but as Americans.” Sergeant Miriam Luciano, an auxiliary police officer of the New York Police Department’s 26th Precinct, recalled how the tragedy affected the public. “A lot of people were sad “you can see it on their faces,” A/Sgt. Luciano said.
Two East Harlem residents interviewed for this story described their own 9-11 tales to this reporter. Gloria Castellanos, through a translator, told how a former employer she worked for was at the World Trade Center site and witnessed the dead bodies at the scene. She described how her former boss was so traumatized by the horror that he eventually turned to drugs and ultimately left New York City. Kwuana Olin recalled how the tragedy extinguished the joy she had a few days earlier when she gave birth to her daughter three days before the terrorist attack. She added that her cousins were at the site that day and thought that she lost them when the towers fell. “Thank God they were alive,” she said. “When my cousins came home, they were covered in soot from head to toe.”
At the end of the ceremony, kids who attended the event released into the air red, white, and blue balloons, symbolizing a person lost in the tragedy. “Children represent the future of our community,” Reverend Lopez stated. “It’s important to share our stories about 9-11 so that the memories of those lost in the tragedy will never be forgotten.”