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“After the tragedy, New Yorkers are more united than ever in their vision, as well as in appreciation what living in freedom means — and that if we stand together, we can accomplish anything.”
-Governor George E. Pataki
On Sunday, the twenty-first anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks, I was invited to attend a memorial reception with George Pataki, New York’s fifty-third governor.
I was honored to be one of five people chosen to receive his annual Freedom Award for the advocacy I’ve done over the last several years on behalf of the families whose loved ones died after contracting COVID-19 in nursing homes.
My husband Sean Newman, a Battalion Chief with the New York City Fire Department, came with me, on a day that was already filled with grief and sorrow for him.
On 9/11, he lost all 12 of the men in his firehouse who were working that day as they ran into the World Trade Center before they fell to the ground. And now, over two years later he’s still mourning the loss of his parents who both died from coronavirus during the height of the pandemic in their separate elder care facilities.
But our gathering in midtown Manhattan with Gov. Pataki was uplifting and his foundation has been committed to doing wonderful work for New Yorkers. We were surrounded by people who had also lost loved ones, but have been turning their loss into something good: bringing awareness to the meaning of freedom in our country.
As I was accepting the award on Sunday afternoon, I realized that there is a link to what I’ve been fighting for after the loss of my in-laws, and the attacks on our country September 11, 2001. It is the incredible freedom we have here in the United States.
That freedom was assaulted 21 years ago when the planes crashed into the buildings in lower Manhattan — taking the lives of thousands of Americans with them including 343 members of the FDNY.
It was an attack on the American way of life that so many have died for including the men and women who went to work that day and never came home.
A part of our belief system as Americans is about how much we cherish our freedom. Unfortunately, it must be constantly defended.
Today, I am thankful that I live in a country where those freedoms allow us to call out injustice where we see it, even in government. Those rights gave me a voice to fight against COVID-19 policies in nursing homes following the tragic deaths of my in-laws. Deaths that revealed not only poor governance but abject corruption in New York state.
Freedom is hard.
Freedom is messy.
But anything less is oppression.
We have a precious right as Americans that we can never let go. Everyone has a right to a voice that deserves to be heard.
And I am grateful to use my voice on behalf of others that no longer have one.
Thank you, Gov. Pataki and your foundation for celebrating democracy and freedom on a day when we all needed to hear something positive.
And thank you, too, for the incredible honor of receiving such an important award and recognition.
I won’t forget your kindness and I am grateful to you for remembering the lives we lost on 9/11 and the over 15,000 cherished souls we lost in New York nursing homes.