Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by CEO Michael D. Smith at the September 11 Anniversary Event
Michael D. Smith, the eighth CEO of AmeriCorps, gave remarks at the 9/11 Day Meal Pack in Washington, DC during a remembrance and anniversary event honoring the September 11th terrorist attacks.
CEO Smith's remarks as prepared are below.
Thank you for the warm welcome. It’s a privilege to be here.
Today, we remember and honor the thousands of innocent souls we lost during attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania more than twenty years ago.
And today, we also acknowledge the sacrifices that continue to be made by members of our armed forces, emergency responders, and their families.
As I thought about coming to speak with you, I thought about how each of us has a different perspective on what this day really means and what it symbolizes.
Some of us remember exactly where we were and who we were with on September 11, 2001. And so for us, this day signifies uncertainty. Disbelief. Grief. Pain.
But some of you, increasingly more and more of you, have only read about 9/11 in a history book, heard your parents or grandparents talk about it each year in September, or learned about the tragedies of the day in a documentary.
So, for you, this day may signify something altogether different.
No matter who you are, one thing is certain—your life and the world we live in today is shaped, in large part, by the events of September 11.
How we travel, our policies on safety and security, our understanding of the media’s impact on our lives, and even our national sense of identity are all shaped by the events of that day.
Our lives have also been shaped by how we, as a country came together—in unity—to respond to these events.
Unity compelled many to raise their hand and voluntarily enlist in the armed forces—knowingly risking their lives to protect our country and the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.
Unity drove many to donate their time and resources to local organizations—volunteering and contributing to the issues and causes they care deeply about.
And unity inspired others to meet their community’s needs by serving in AmeriCorps.
Whether they were helping to provide emergency assistance to the injured, serving as family caseworkers, or supporting those in desperate need of housing and other services … AmeriCorps was there.
For example, a very special AmeriCorps NCCC program participated in recovery efforts in both the nation’s capital and New York.
While in D.C., they supported an American Red Cross call center where they worked to connect displaced family members with their loved ones. A few short days later, that same team arrived in New York to support families—most of whom were grieving after the loss of a loved one.
For many, the AmeriCorps experience during 9/11 was a life-changing one that inspired lifelong careers in public service.
Through a spirit of unity and an enduring commitment to service, every one of these Americans upheld the virtues of honor, sacrifice, and selflessness—principles that have always been the greatest source of our nation’s strength.
This story of service is a uniquely American one. But there’s another chapter that we continue to reckon with, too.
We came together in unity to decry the despicable acts of hate against Muslim Americans and those of Sikh, South Asian, and Arab descent who were targets of assaults, bullying, and intimidation … in schools, where they lived, and where they worked.
Amid these ongoing threats of intimidation, nonprofit groups like the Pillars Fund have worked to invest in community-focused initiatives, push back against harmful narratives, and uplift Muslim stories,
These despicable events forced us to hold up a mirror to our own biases—both conscious and unconscious.
They forced us to confront some of our deepest challenges.
We asked ourselves the tough questions: What does it mean to be an American? Who are we becoming? Who do we want to be?
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
But it doesn’t bend on its own.
True unity requires us to make an ongoing commitment.
It requires doing ongoing work. It requires that we try to understand the lived experiences of others.
It requires that we—in the words of President Biden— “let our better angels prevail.”
And for today, please accept my sincere thanks for your dedication to serving others.
As you think about tomorrow and the days, weeks, and years ahead, continue to serve your community.
Volunteer to tutor students at your local school, support our country’s veterans in accessing critical services, help deliver meals to families, help an older neighbor in their time of need. And consider a longer-term commitment by serving with AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Seniors.
Allow unity, instead of polarization, to become the defining characteristic of our era. Honor the legacies of those who are no longer with us by committing to leading a life of kindness.
Because the truth is, the things that bind us together are stronger than the things that try to divide us.
Let today be the reminder we need to see each other’s humanity and to keep moving forward with grace, with hope, and with love.