President Obama joined about 2,000 attendees Sunday night at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for a concert that wrapped up three days of events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The “Concert for Hope” was sponsored by the Washington National Cathedral. It was to have been held at the cathedral in Northwest D.C., but after the building suffered damage from the recent earthquake and the collapse of a crane on the grounds, the event was moved late last week to the Kennedy Center.
The evening’s entertainment included the Marine Chamber Orchestra, country music star Alan Jackson, singers Denyce Graves and Patti LaBelle, and the Washington National Cathedral Choir. At times, the crowd was upbeat. Other moments were somber reminders of the tragedy. The crowd became subdued while watching videos of rescue workers helping victims at the World Trade Center and people talking about how lives had changed and thanking the rescuers. Graves closed out the evening with a performance of “Amazing Grace.”
In his speech, Obama quoted from the Bible, saying that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” He described 9/11 as one of the nation’s “darkest nights.”
Referring to the loss of loved ones, he said: “They were taken from us with heartbreaking swiftness and cruelty.”
The next day — Sept. 12, 2001 — “we awoke to a world in which evil was closer at hand, and uncertainty clouded our future,” he said.
Obama said that “much has changed for Americans” in the decade since the attacks. But he reminded attendees what has not changed.
“Our character as a nation has not changed,” he said. “Our faith in God and each other — that has not changed. . . . It will be said of us that we kept that faith; that we took a painful blow and emerged stronger.”
Many attendees reflected on why they came to the event.
Lynn Rhomberg, 64, of Northwest said she thought it was important to take a day off from household chores and errands to “pay tribute” to the firefighters and other first responders, many of whom lost their lives.
“They go in and don’t know if they will come out,” she said. “I think I can take a day off and pause to give tribute to them.”
Marlene Anthony-Carter, 78, of Fort Washington came with Dorris Atkins, 60, of Northeast. The two are friends from church.
“It’s historic,” Atkins said. “We should always give remembrance to the memory of those who were killed. They left a lot of family members behind.”
Carter said she came to “remember the horror” of what happened on 9/11. “It was a day we never thought we would experience.”
She said she was pleased the way the country came together in the days after the attacks but worries that the country has since “pulled apart.”
“Anytime we can all come together on one accord, we should,” she said. “Here we are all coming together. People of all races, all beliefs, all religions. Everybody is coming together to remember 9/11.”
After the event, many attendees said that agreed that it had done a good job of helping them remember a difficult time and showing that people can move forward.
“It is difficult to honor and capture the memory of people who died and to honor those who sacrificed their lives to help, but it did that,” said Durriya Badani of Sandy Spring. “The tone was perfect.” She said the event captured the “hope, character and determination of America to be strong.”
“It had the right combination of solemnity and hope,” she said. “We honored the past but also we celebrated our strengths, resilience and diversity.”
Peter Baca of Northwest said he thought the event was “amazing.” His mother happened to have died on Sept. 11, 2001, and he was stuck in St. Louis for five days trying to get home to New Mexico to his family.
He said the Sunday night event was “very moving.”
“It brought back a very emotional time,” he said. “You’re reliving it once again. To us it was like Pearl Harbor. It is something I will never forget.”
The message he left with, he said, was “hope, love, unity, faith. And there’s a tomorrow.”