Eleven years later and the tide has surely turned, at least in one very significant way. The anniversary of September 11th is no longer only a day known for a horrific tragedy on our national landscape. It is now also America's largest day of charitable service and good deeds, in honor of my late brother and all those who perished that sunny September morning.
And that is gratifying. That is healing. That is a way to say to those whose intent was to destroy us, “You do not own this day, we do. We are devoting this day to make life better for those in need, to reaffirm our freedoms and our compassion for others, despite your efforts to the contrary.”
In April 2009 President Barack Obama signed into law Congress' bipartisan Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which included a provision that established the anniversary of September 11th now and forever as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. This federal recognition gave great and lasting momentum to an observance advocated for years by the 9/11 community and which included the participation of people throughout the world.
Flash-forwarding two years, the notion of pitching in on 9/11 has truly taken hold – in 2011 more than 30 million people marked the day by helping people and communities in need and performing a countless array of other good deeds.
Surely, such behavior makes sense. It is meaningful and productive and forward-looking. It reflects the wonderful collective spirit of community and compassion people all over the world demonstrated in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Then, we put aside our differences, especially our politics, and came together as one to rebound from this despicable attack on humanity.
My life changed forever on September 11, 2001. My brother Glenn J. Winuk, a partner at the law firm Holland & Knight LLP, was murdered by the terrorists who attacked our nation. Situated just a block and a half from the site of the World Trade Center, Glenn helped evacuate his law offices, and then raced west toward the South Tower to participate in the rescue effort. He died when that building collapsed. Glenn's partial remains were recovered about six months later, a borrowed medic bag by his side.
For almost 20 years Glenn was a volunteer firefighter and EMT in our hometown of Jericho, NY. He had also served as a fire commissioner and as an officer of Engine Company 2, and was highly decorated. Specially certified in building collapse rescue training, no one was more prepared or willing to race into those towering infernos than my kid brother. Dead at 40.
Firefighters are a special breed. We all know that. Not everyone has what it takes to do what they choose to do for the rest of us. What amazes me most about firefighters, volunteer and non-volunteer alike, is that they do what they do for people they do not know. And that is indeed impressive, given the risks they face. But each of us can be heroic in countless ways that do not include risk of any kind. And that's what 9/11 Day is all about.
9/11 Day is becoming a global phenomenon. People from 165 nations have visited our website to register their pledges to serve on 9/11, find out about good deed opportunities in their own communities, connect with others who share similar cause-related passions, or to learn more about and donate to support the observance. There's really nothing quite like it.
The 9/11 Day observance this year will be extraordinary, and is supported by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is dedicating a wide array of resources throughout the nation to facilitate volunteerism and service on the anniversary. It is also supported by the 9/11 community; numerous corporations; nonprofits; faith-based organizations; municipalities across America; grade schools, colleges and universities; associations; legislative leaders; celebrities and countless individuals.
9/11 Day presents a unique opportunity. On this one day each year to stand shoulder to shoulder with people throughout the world and say this is the path forward. This is how we collectively will help make the world a better place to be.
So please visit our website at 911day.org, or connect with us and others through social media at facebook.com/911day or through Twitter and Tout via #911day. Sign on to do a good deed and encourage others to do the same. Make a difference in someone's life by turning tragedy into something positive. Thank you!
Jay S. Winuk is the executive vice president of MyGoodDeed, the nonprofit he co-founded with his friend and colleague David Paine that successfully advocated for 9/11 to become a federally recognized Day of Service and Remembrance.