Remembering those who died on Sept. 11

A historical, significant act doesn’t burst on the scene in one day. It begins with a germ of an idea deep in the crevices of the human heart. The right kind of heart connected to hundreds of other hearts ready to do good for strangers.
When the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the ill-fated United Airlines Flight 93, it shook our nation to the core. I remember those surreal post 9/11 days with “God Bless America” posters festooned everywhere. Everyone was patriotic and mourned the loss of life.
In February 2002, five people met at IHOP Restaurant in San Jose to discuss something special birthed in our pastor’s heart regarding Sept. 11. Michael-John Toste, former lead singer of a 1980s rock band, who became the founder and pastor of Acts Revival Center, shared his vision.
He told us, God gave me a powerful tribute celebration to encourage the Pentagon families one year after the devastating 9/11 terrorist attack by organizing a major tribute: Washington D.C., Honors America’s Heroes of Freedom.
Together, we would pay tribute to the surviving families of the 125 who died that horrific day. This included the rescue workers who gave their lives to save people.
It turned out New York received a ton of publicity overshadowing the Pentagon families. Why not honor the nation’s capital? Our ministry was small and unknown. We didn’t have a budget for such a monumental task. We did everything by faith, trusting God to provide financially for the next seven months.
The five people grew to 40 as people caught the vision and eventually more volunteered from Texas and the East Coast. We had three volunteer teams across the nation assisting Michael-John, president of the nonprofit America’s Heroes of Freedom. No one received a penny to participate in this labor of love.
Anthony A. Williams, mayor of Washington D.C. endorsed the event along with 53 members of Congress. This gave us plenty of favor with the District of Columbia.
Michael-John was also the promoter and organizer of the tribute. He handed responsibilities to certain key people. He gave me the job as top editor, which meant I was in charge of writing everything from political speeches to letters. I corresponded with the White House, Washington D.C. elite, top entertainers, and the U.S. Olympic committee.
Celebrities like boxing icon Mohammad Ali, Randy Travis, Roberta Flack, Ron Kenoly, and 17 U.S. Olympic medalists accepted Michael-John’s invitation to participate. Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer who was the inspiration behind the movie, “Good Morning Vietnam” agreed to be the emcee.
One hurdle after another greeted us as we ran toward the finish line.
The mayor’s office in Washington D.C. warned us that Homeland Security reported terrorist threats on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. Michael-John now found himself in a dilemma whether he should cancel the event or not. On Sept. 11, 2002 no terrorism occurred. The historic tribute took place on schedule.
Before the televised event, family members and recovery workers met the celebrities at the OAS Building for a catered dinner. I loved seeing people, I had written about for the last seven months, face to face. I fought back tears as I witnessed speed skater Casey FitzRandolph place his gold medal around the neck of a fatherless young boy. The kid’s eyes exhibited wonder and awe.
After dinner, everyone went to the DAR Constitution Hall for the ceremony. Performances by Randy Travis, Ron Kenoly, Roberta Flack, The Nelsons, 17 U.S. medalists, and a 100-piece choir delighted the masses. Backstage Yolanda Ali shared that after the terrorist attacks her husband Mohammad felt compelled to give people hope in the midst of the tragedy. He desired an opportunity to express his heart. When our organization invited him, Mohammad immediately accepted.  
Michael-John said, “Nothing could stop Washington’s D.C., Honors America’s Heroes of Freedom Tribute. Overall, 1,800 family members who lost loved ones attended the ceremony. The Lord got his way.”
Days after the ceremony, Washington, D.C. was abuzz about the historic event. We received positive reports from those who were there. Overall the general consensus was anyone who skipped the ceremony missed out on the ultimate 9/11 homage for the Pentagon families. 

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