Family of DC Victims of Terrorist Attack Petition for Recognition

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A commemorative event to honor the District’s victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, evolved into a peace movement, as well as an effort to ensure that the slain are never forgotten.

Betty Carter, grandmother of Leckie Elementary School student Bernard Brown, was seeking an official recognition of her grandson and one of his teachers.

“We have petitions being circulated to change the name of Leckie Elementary School to the Bernard Brown and Hilda Taylor Elementary School,” Carter said.

Bernard and Taylor were on a flight headed to California, part of an award Bernard had received from the National Geographic Society.

The Browns, wearing commemorative t-shirts, traveled from Pensicola, Fla. to attend this year’s event. A small contingent from Taylor’s family also attended the ceremony, hosted by Jonice Gray Tucker, daughter of D.C. Mayor Vincent C Gray.

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The names of the District’s victims were read aloud. In addition to Bernard and Taylor, honored were 11-year old students, Asia Cottom and Rodney Dickens, and their teachers, Sarah M. Clark and James Daniel Debeuneure. Representatives from the National Geographic Society, Ann C. Judge and James Joseph Fergusons also were honored.

Students attending the event made a peace pledge, as they have each year for the last decade. But for the victims’ families, it really wasn’t enough.

“Still something more should be done,” said Clementine Homesley, former principal at Leckie ES and one of the key organizers of the event.

Clifton Cottom, Asia’s father, did not attend the event, but he told The Afro he agreed that a school should be named after the victims. His daughter was a student at the former Bertie Backus Middle School, which has now become an extension of the University of the District of Columbia’s Community College.

In 2002, students and faculty worked with the Washington Architectural Foundation to design and construct its memorial peace garden. But over the years, maintaining the garden became difficult with budget constraints from the school system and its partners. To the families, it was another sign of the victims being forgotten.

Meanwhile, at Ketcham ES, students commemorated the two victims it lost on 9/11, but there were no politicians making speeches, no cameras to report the happenings, no families in attendance.

“Every year, it becomes more difficult to get the families to participate. With every person that died there is another story of how their families reacted to the tragedies,” Homesley said.

Romaine Thomas, mother of D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and principal at Ketcham at the time of the terrorist attacks agreed.

“Yes, we realize this is not New York but every life is important to us. These were our students, our dedicated teachers and friends of education. No matter what the media and others do, our local government should take the lead to honor these precious lives in the right way,” Thomas said.

Gray, Council member Marion S. Barry (D-Ward 8) and Chancellor Kaya Henderson said they were amenable to discussions about renaming schools to honor the victims but had not been approached.

“We’ve got do much more than we’ve done in the past to show the families we recognize the ultimate sacrifices made by their loved ones to this great country,” Barry said. “It’s time to explore the possibility and perpetuate their memories. Sometimes renaming can become very political.”

Paulene S. Hamlette, director of programs for the Best Friends Foundation, handed out memorial pins that were made 10 years ago with the names of all of D.C.’s victims.

“No one fully understands how the immediate community is impacted,” Hamlette said, “unless you’ve lived through it.”