Special to South Florida Times

On Sunday, Dale V.C. Holness is supposed to be attending a real estate conference in Texas. Instead the licensed real estate and mortgage broker and Broward County commissioner will be planting a garden at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Elementary School in Lauderhill.

The 11 a.m. community service project will be one of four 9/11 commemoration stops on Holness’ schedule which will start at 8:30 a.m. at a Broward Sheriffs Office ceremony, followed  by a 9 a.m. ceremony at Lauderhill Fire Station No. 57 and conclude at 7 p.m. in Pompano Beach. 

“This 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks gives us a chance to look at how we can build a stronger nation,” Holness said. “This is what this weekend ought to be about – about honoring those who

sacrificed their lives, especially those first responders who went in and did what they could to rescue their fellow man.”

Ten years ago, on Sept. 11, the world learned of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Holness remembers watching the news on TV at his Lauderhill home while he was preparing to go to his real estate office in Plantation.

“It was very stunning for me, numbing, frightening,” Holness said of the images of the two commercial planes that were flown into the twin towers in New York.

Before the day would end, another commercial flight would ram into the Pentagon in Washington and a fourth believed to be headed to the U.S. Capitol or the White House would crash in Shanksville, Pa.

The attacks, blamed on Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network, killed nearly 3,000 people. Counted among those casualties are 215 African Americans, including 13 firefighters who, as first responders, lost their lives rescuing people at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon.

Throughout the nation, events are taking place this week to honor the heroes, heroines and victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

President Barack Obama will observe the anniversary with scheduled stops at Ground Zero in Manhattan, where the World Trade Center towers fell; at the Pentagon, which also was hit by a hijacked jetliner; and at Shanksville.

First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush also will speak at the Shanksville service, where the widow of LeRoy Homer — an African American who became one of 9/11’s celebrated heroes, will be among the invited guests.

Homer was the first officer and co-pilot on the United Airlines Flight 93, which was 46 minutes into its flight to Cleveland when four terrorists stormed the cockpit and began flying the aircraft to Washington.

The crew, who had learned about the World Trade Center crashes from a United Airlines dispatch, unsuccessfully tried to fight off the hijackers. Passengers joined in the struggle to take back the plane which never made it to the Capitol and ultimately crashed.

“It will be a very difficult time for her,” said Pauline Smith, an assistant to Homer’s wife, Melodie. Smith said the pilot’s widow has kept his legacy alive through a foundation she created a year after the tragedy. The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation awards scholarships to young adults who seek careers as professional pilots. It also promotes awareness about aviation careers to disadvantaged youth.

In South Florida, special services are taking place at city and county halls, police and fire stations and universities, among other places.  Events range from an “America Supports You” freedom walk Sunday in Homestead in South Miami-Dade to a Palm Springs Middle School concert on Friday morning.

The school courtyard ceremony will feature 70 children in the school’s philharmonic string orchestra and about 60 more children who will wave flags as part of the event which is open to the public, said Martin Weingart, the Palm Springs Middle technology/magnet coordinator.

Some cities and organizations, including Miami, Plantation, Miramar and North Lauderdale and the North Campus of Miami Dade College, have received steel pieces extracted from the World Trade Center which they are erecting as local 9/11 memorials at fire stations, municipal buildings and parks. The effort is part of a national program to encourage cities to keep the experiences and memories of 9/11 alive.

But not all cities, including some of South Florida’s predominantly black cities, can afford to sponsor such memorial celebrations, Holness said.

“It’s not that blacks are saying they don’t care about 9/11. It’s an event that affects all of us,” Holness said. “Many of these cities are in financial straits. Understand that it is more than outwardly showing something, anyway. It’s what is in the heart. It was a common attack on all of us.”

The national tragedy, said national lecturer and author Rosie Milligan, does have some different implications for black America.

“There was much empathy because African Americans know so well what it feels like to have the lives of loved ones taken away because of a people who do not like you as a race or value your life as a human being,” Milligan said. “African Americans know so well what it’s like to be hated and because of such hatred to be violently attacked by the haters. That hatred continues today.”

“African Americans need to continue to be mindful that we are not living in a post-racial society,” added Florida House Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-118.  “Following the election of the nation’s first African-American president, there was a lot of mention that America had become a post-racial society that does not look at color anymore.” Instead, Bullard said, “9/11 created a hyper racial sensitivity. People were becoming even more cognizant of race.”

Bullard said the race factor still keeps blacks, even the president of the United States, from being recognized for the successes they have achieved. He cites Osama Bin Laden, who was killed earlier this year in a U.S. Navy SEALs attack on his compound in Pakistan, as an example.

“Had this happened under the previous administration, we would have recognized it as a national holiday. We [killed] the number-one criminal in the world,” Bullard said.

Other community leaders say that, 10 years after 9/11, ethnic and political divisions in America are still apparent but the anniversary gives the country a chance to  reflect and  change.

“Hopefully, the 10-year anniversary will remind us that, as a nation, ‘United We Stand,’ said Mario Artecona, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board. “Our country is polarized with a high level of acrimony. 9/11 should serve as a reminder that we are one and should act accordingly.” 

Added Retha Boone-Fye, director of Miami-Dade County’s Black Affairs Advisory Board:  “Sept. 11 should remind us that although we were hit, we remain unbowed yet humble and aware of the fact that America is still beautiful.”

Editor's Note: The second installment in this two-part series will look at how Muslims in South Florida have been affected by the 9/11 attacks and their reactions 10 years later.