News stories

A day of miracles remembered

As part of the nation’s 10th anniversary observance of 9/11, the UFT paid tribute to the courage and strength of its members, who made sure not one child was lost nor one child hurt on that day, at a commemoration — Reflections and Renewal — on the first day of school at union headquarters on Sept. 8.

“That tragic day generated thousands upon thousands of miracles,” Mulgrew said in opening remarks. “We celebrate that spirit we all brought to the city that day.”

Sharing a microphone as they had shared critical decision making on 9/11, Randi Weingarten, then the UFT president, and Harold Levy, the schools chancellor at the time, pointed out, “We had a generation to protect when no one knew what would happen.”

Introduced by Mulgrew as “the two people who held things together that day,” Weingarten and Levy spoke about acting with phone lines down, transportation out, no rules or regulations about what to do — “but with an instinct to care and protect.”

They revealed that they jointly agreed to countermand a mayoral order to close the schools that day.

As Levy pointed out, “We agreed, ‘absolutely not,’ and it was a we.” It was a decision that ultimately kept all the city’s children safe in their schools.

Mulgrew remembered the moment in his classroom that morning, wondering “How do we keep them safe? Get them home?” And in the weeks that followed, he said, he and his fellow teachers asked themselves, “How do we take the anger and move it to something more positive?”

Weingarten addressed renewal when she spoke of the union’s move to its new headquarters in lower Manhattan in May, 2003, “when the city was mired in fear and everyone was fleeing the area.”

That decision, she said, was “a testament to the union’s commitment to make the city a great place.”

Summing up, Levy said that when he hears people denigrate teachers he tells them to think about the day they walked children through the gray clouds at Ground Zero. “None said, ‘I’m out of here’ or ‘I don’t get paid to do this,’” he said.

More firsthand stories by educators were told in excerpts from a UFT video, “Day of Miracles,” a minute-by-minute description of the day as told by the teachers who experienced it, and in a booklet, “Courage and Strength.”

In his introductory remarks, Anthony Harmon, the UFT director of parent and community outreach and emcee of the program, described the actions by educators on 9/11 and in the days that followed as “the heart and soul of what it meant to be a teacher.”

A teacher himself in a school with a view of the Twin Towers back then, Harmon remembered, ”The children were emotional and plain scared and so were we as teachers. There wasn’t a manual.”

UFT Vice President Karen Alford also told the story of how the UFT Disaster Relief Fund, which she chairs, was established in the wake of the tragedy. She described it as both a “fund of hope” and “a legacy of giving close to our hearts.”

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly praised teachers for improving the lives of millions of young people and declared, “Teachers’ close work with police to keep children safe is a record to be proud of.”

The colorful and uniquely designed banners on display honoring the staff of each school in the evacuation zone for their extraordinary courage will be sent to their schools. And growing out of 9/11, the pillars in the lobby of union headquarters are newly inscribed with the values of the union and its members.

The “Day of Miracles” video and the stories in “Courage and Strength” and other member testimonials are available on the UFT website.

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