20 years since 9/11: Museum launches fund so next generation 'never forgets'
NEW YORK – Before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum is launching an initiative and fundraiser to focus on teaching the history of the deadly day to a younger generation.
The Never Forget Fund aims to support educational programming for students, educators and others to understand more deeply the history of Sept. 11 and how it shaped the world.
The larger Never Forget initiative marks the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 and will include a commemorative ticket for admission, said Alice Greenwald, the memorial and museum's president and CEO.
"This is a transitional moment," Greenwald told USA TODAY. For millions of Americans, Sept. 11 remains a vivid memory etched into their minds, but for a younger generation, "they don't have that memory. For them, it's history," she said.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in a string of terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Two airplanes hijacked by terrorists tied to al-Qaeda flew into the World Trade Center in New York, collapsing the towers later in the day. Just outside Washington, another hijacked plane flew into the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania as passengers and the crew attempted to retake the cockpit.
Ten years later, the memorial was dedicated on the site of the World Trade Center, with the museum opening to the public in May 2014.
The museum plans to return to its traditional ceremony for the 2021 anniversary, which includes a reading of victims' names and the "Tribute in Light," where two lights are beamed into the sky symbolizing the Twin Towers. Last year, the reading of the names was prerecorded as a social distancing measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The pandemic also forced the museum to temporarily close its doors when the outbreak began in New York last March. It reopened at limited capacity for the 19th anniversary, Greenwald said. "Our business model collapsed overnight," as over 90% of operating expenses were covered by admissions and spending inside the museum, she noted.
She hopes the 20th anniversary will coincide with renewed attendance at the museum as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease and tourism rebounds in the city.
To mark the occasion, a $50 commemorative ticket will be available, which includes admission and a metal plaque emblazoned with the words "Never Forget" and an image of the Twin Towers.
The museum is also releasing a video PSA for its Never Forget Fund, which features music from John Legend and an appearance from Chloe Downey, the granddaughter of FDNY Special Operations Command Chief Raymond M. Downey, who was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 11.
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Each anniversary, the museum also creates a video for teachers to show in classrooms and spark discussion on what can be a difficult topic to teach at the start of the school year, Greenwald said.
This year's will focus particularly on the next generation; "young people talking to young people," Greenwald said.
One of the speakers is the daughter of a pilot killed in one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center who later formed a friendship with Yankee great Derek Jeter. Another speaker is one of the students at the Florida elementary school where then-President George W. Bush was reading to a classroom when his chief of staff whispered into his ear informing him of the second plane hitting the towers.
After the anniversary, the museum plans to continue the fundraising effort indefinitely to bolster its educational programming. Donations are being accepted online at neverforgetfund.org.
"Everything in the 'Never Forget' initiative actually relates to the same set of themes, which is that our obligation to remember doesn't end in 20 years," Greenwald said. "It's a permanent requirement, and it's a privilege as well as an obligation to remember."
For Greenwald, focusing on education around New York, the nation and the world's responses after 9/11 remains a vital component of the museum's mission – what the organization refers to as 9/12, or the day after.
"The museum is as much about 9/12 as it is about 9/11," she said. "The 9/12 aspect of this history is this response of compassion and empathy, of a commitment to service to others."
That's even more important as the city, nation and world again recovers from the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
"We do have it within us to meet adversity with hope and resilience," Greenwald said. "We do. That's the message of 9/12. That's woven into the Never Forget Fund."
Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller