Thoughts on 9/11

September 11, 2017  |   Posted by :   |   Blog   |   1 Comment»

By Tonya Gayle, Chief Development Officer

I grew up in a three family brownstone in Bushwick, Brooklyn. My mother and I lived on one floor and my aunt, uncle and twin cousins Andre and Kary, lived on another floor. The twins are three years older than me and we lived in the same building for 16 years. While growing up, they were far more like brothers to me than cousins. From the time the twins were in elementary school they wanted to be firefighters. Their goal came to life in adulthood. Both grew up to be members of the FDNY.

On September 11th, 2001 both brothers were called to respond to the attack of the Twin Towers. Andre was a first responder from Rescue 5. He ended up going into the South Tower. Kary reached the site later that morning and would return day after day for weeks and weeks in support of the relief efforts and to also seek some semblance of his brother’s remains. Andre died on 9/11. His body was never found beneath the rubble of the South Tower. The street where his mother lives in Long Island has been named after him in memoriam. My cousin Kary has since become a Fire Marshall but has had to live with the loss of his beloved twin as well as the loss of all the fellow members of his fire house and over 300 FDNY members lost that day. Every year on 9/11, I spend the day with my family honoring Andre, remembering his role in a significant part of American history, and taking time to reflect on the meaning of family, community, support, healing and heroism.

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At GCF there are many of us- alumni, corps members, staff and other GCF stakeholders who have experiences equally poignant which occur in a far less public forum than my family’s loss. I’m mindful that every day there are heroes and losses that go unobserved by the larger world and certainly the media and global community. I am proud of my cousin Andre’s contribution and heroism. I try to model his selfless and heroic approach by serving others in whatever ways my talents and opportunities allow. 

I also know that in the GCF community, so many of you, of us, are fighting every day to literally save lives and to go beyond the norm for the sake of others. My hope is that on 9/11 more than anything else, we all appreciate the role of heroes in our lives, acknowledge that tragedy is universal and not unique to the moment of the morning when the planes hit, and that we remember and recognize the important contributions others make through selfless giving and sacrifice.


The National September 11 Memorial Museum has a huge and gorgeous art piece. It’s called, Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning .It is symbolic of the close to 3,000 victims of the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks. I find it to be a helpful and inspiring reminder of each individual’s significance and value to the greater whole. I invite you all to review the image and as time and interest allows, visit the 9/11 museum. There are also the memorial pools of flowing water 30 feet deep sitting in the footprint of the two towers that fell. It is not an easy experience to view it. But, it has meaning and value to me. To witness it is an action similar to what we each do everyday in our work at Green City Force. We take on challenge and face adversity that others might not consider. I thank my cousin Andre for his civil service and I thank you all for your service in creating hope, healing, and opportunity for our members.


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1 Comment for this entry

  • Matt Nimetz

    September 12th, 2017 on 9:55 am

    Very moving piece, which brought back vivid memories of that terrible day. The losses suffered are remembered and honored by all of us. With prayers for better times.

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