We’ll Carry On
The CMN Drive for Ground Hero Kidsby Valerie Ghent
I. How It Began
I live in downtown Manhattan, one block from West Street and the Hudson River. On September 11, 2001, I watched in horror from my roof and photographed everything from just after the first plane hit to the inevitable collapse of both World Trade Center towers. Once my family was accounted for, my sister and nephew relocated (they live in Battery Park City), food and water obtained for everyone, friends displaced from Tribeca helped and relocated, I rode my bike to Pier 40, the Ground Zero “boundary” of Houston and West Streets, and inquired about volunteering at the supply station there. They said, “No thanks, we don’t need anyone, but we do need these supplies,” and pointed to a sign listing everything from respirators to Vicks VaporRub. I went and bought some items and then returned, offering again to volunteer. Someone said, “Actually, we need people at night here,” so back home I went to write my first e-mail (excerpted below) to those on my usual e-mail list, and also to the CMN online community:Subject: Needed items at Pier 40 and other info Date: Sat, 15 Sep 2001 20:51:06 -0400 From: Valerie Ghent <email@example.com> Organization: West Street Records
After days of despair and shock, and now that the barricades are down, I have found a few things to do. Life below 14th street during the area closing was surreal: silent streets except for the continual sirens; people standing completely still and silent in the middle of every north/south street, gazing downtown at the massive plumes of smoke; most businesses closed—though many restaurants were open; no newspaper delivery (I rode my bike up to 72nd street along the bike path to find one last Wednesday); of course no mail; no deliveries; ‘border patrols’ at 14th, Houston and Canal Streets where only a photo ID showing you are a resident got you through. The building I live in is on West Street, which has been the main route down to the WTC rescue, and clean up area on West below Chambers.
I listed some of the many items that were needed, including medical supplies, boots, and duct tape, and I offered to get them to Pier 40, a staging area for the rescue effort. Then I spoke more personally about how I was being affected by all this.
My sister, for those of you who know my family and have been asking, is ok, as is her son Grady, though they cannot return to their apartment, as it is only a few blocks from what was the WTC. They were able to pick up a few things from their place today for the first time, under escort (before this only residents with pets were allowed to briefly return).
Yes the helicopters and F16’s are flying overhead. Yes the waters are filled with ships; I see them from my window. Yes the smoke still billows through our skies, and yes while the smell is growing more acrid right now the wind has changed. We are at the whim of the wind. At night the smoke is lit up from the searchlights, while the rest of downtown is dark. Everyone is jumpy; the slightest unusual sound makes for unrest. Yet last night at the Union Square vigil the entire park was lit up not only by the candles, endless candles, there was a huge peace sign made with candles, but by the presence of so many people. And then there was this couple, walking on black stilts, dressed completely in black cat suits, head to toe, with pieces of broken glass glued on. They were walking and torquing their bodies, two eerie symbolic figures of the towers making their way through the crowd.
I was due to perform the following day in a concert in Manhattan, so I described the conflict we, the performers, were feeling.
About tomorrow’s songwriter/spoken word concert in Riverside Park South there was much deliberation, we were going to postpone, and only after many conversations among the Parks Dept representative, JJ, Michael, Booker and myself were we able to collectively reach the decision that we shall carry on. Interestingly today, after sending the e-mail announcement, I sat down to try and focus on which songs would be not only appropriate but which I felt I would be able to sing, I sat down today to prepare music for the concert. I thought of those who have left us, and those of us left here, and the following lyrics and (the accompanying music) tumbled out in minutes. This song is dedicated to those whose presence we all still feel among us, to the weight of their souls, which we all carry now.
With grace and humility,
II. How CMN Got Involved
I went back to Pier 40 after sending that e-mail, worked through the night organizing supplies for Ground Zero. Why did I include CMN in this e-mail list? I joined CMN in 1999 after recording and releasing a children’s album with my father, Emmanuel Ghent, called Songs For Children (and All Their Friends). I knew several members lived in or near New York City, I knew everyone wanted to help somehow, people wanted to know what life was like in downtown NYC, we were all afraid, and, I thought, you never know who might know someone in the area who has certain specific, much needed supplies. So off went the first e-mail, followed by updates at first every few days, then more sporadically; not because the needs were lessened, but because I often didn’t have the time nor energy to write, and I was aware that I didn’t want to inundate readers to the point that they stopped reading the lists!By the end of September I had found a volunteer organization forming in a warehouse on Spring Street. Called WTC Ground Zero Relief (wtcgroundzerorelief.org), it was directed by Rhonda Roland Shearer and co-directed by her husband, Harvard biologist and author Stephen Jay Gould. Her daughter, London Allen, headed the warehouse. We worked with FEMA, FDNY, NYPD, PAPD, (Port Authority Police Department), the FBI, and others, and brought specific supplies straight to Ground Zero every day and night. My e-mails continued, a kind of war correspondence, I suppose.
III. CMN Members Come Through
On October 4th, CMN member Pam Donkin posted a response to one of my supply requeststo the CMN e-mail list (one in which I described the 5,000 teddy bears that had been shipped from Tucson, Arizona for displaced children in lower Manhattan). She asked if recordings could be sent to the children and suggested collecting them at the upcoming CMN national gathering. I thought that would be a wonderful idea. At the time I thought we could bring the CDs to children displaced from downtown schools; they were merged into public schools in Greenwich Village.
Called “Recordings For NYC Ground Hero Kids,” the collection was underway. On October 15th, Pam e-mailed to say she had two large boxes filled with CDs, cassettes, and books from CMN members. Then CMN member Fred Koch e-mailed to say he also had a large amount of collected CDs and cassettes to donate. I asked them to ship them to our WTC Ground Zero relief warehouse on Spring Street.The day the boxes arrived I was excited. Just seeing the generosity and love from so many CMNers and the music they donated brought tears to my eyes. And in one of the boxes was something that make the tears overflow: a Children’s Music Network tote bag that messages and signatures from over 40 CMN members at the national gathering saying thank you, peace, blessings. I posted the following response to the e-mail list: “I can’t begin to find the words to respond for such a thoughtful and irreplaceable gift!!! I have the bag here in the studio with me right now. Now I really feel like I was there with you in California!!!” I still have the bag hanging in my studio at home.
IV. CMN and the Winter Holiday
By this time of the year we were almost at the holidays, and it struck me that perhaps the music would be better received at Christmas than lost in the shuffle of a school distribution. I asked the other volunteers about Christmas plans for local children. A woman I have volunteered with, Diane Buhler, told me she and another woman were organizing a toy drive called “Santa Cause” for the children of the victims’ families. This event was to be private, for all victims’ families and children, closed to the press, and was to be held at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, December 22nd.
I “protected’” the CDs in the Spring Street warehouse until December 21st (there are so many volunteers and shipments arriving all the time) when we took everything to the Garden. I had never seen so many toys in one place. I personally handed the boxes of CDs to two NYPD officers who drove the boxes to the Garden in a paddy wagon (!!) along with other treasured collected items. The bulk of the toy collection was hauled in eighteen-wheelers and I didn’t want the CDs to be lost in the shuffle.
On the morning of December 22nd, I went up to the Garden and checked the music display. I found some CMN CDs and cassettes set up, but more, a lot of, well, more commercial stuff. So I looked around till I found the boxes of the rest of the CMN CDs and rearranged the display completely, putting every single CMN donation out and visible. I left before the children and their families arrived, but when I called Diane Buhler at 3 P.M. she told me that every single CD and cassette and book had been given out. The collected recordings of CMN members had been distributed to some of the children who needed them the most.
V. A Final Note
Thank you all so very much for your love, your generosity, and your music.Native downtown New Yorker Valerie Ghent is a songwriter, producer, performer, arranger, and engineer, and has toured and/or recorded with well-known artists. She runs her own record label business, West Street Records, and has released two recordings: Unstoppable, (her solo album of original songs) and Songs For Children. Val has been a volunteer with WTC Ground Zero Relief since Sept 2001, and organized a 9/11 Songwriters Tribute concert in March, the sixth-month anniversary of 9/11, featuring forty songwriters/poets as well as works/performances by FDNY, PAPD, and NYPD.
reprinted from Pass It On! The Journal of the Children’s Music Network, Issue #41, Spring 2002.