9/11 hero is an example young adults can follow

“There is no ‘I’ in team,” is written next to Welles Crowther’s Nyack (N.Y.) High School 1995 yearbook picture, his mother Alison Crowther recently told the faculty and students at Brother Martin High School in New Orleans. So, when Welles worked with others to save lives before losing his own when a terrorist plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, it didn’t surprise her at all, she told them.

“Be the good story. Be the difference and be the change,” Crowther said, wearing Welles’ signature red bandanna and a skirt in a red-bandanna pattern.

Crowther mentioned how her family dealt with losing their beloved son Welles at age 24 and why now, 16 years after Welles’ death, she continues to travel worldwide promoting Welles’ legacy of selflessness to encourage others to do the same.

“When something devastating happens in your life, you don’t have to let it defeat you,” Crowther said, telling them to have faith in the Lord “and understand that there are things in life you don’t understand.”

The Crowther family established the Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust in 2001 to “assist young people to become exemplary adults through education, health, recreation and character development” by scholarships and educational outreach. This was before his body was recovered in March 2002 with New York firefighters and emergency personnel in the command center in the South Tower lobby. Through its Red Bandanna Project in conjunction with the Fetzer Institute, Alison Crowther said the foundation strengthens notions of:

  • Leadership: “What makes a good leader?” she asked. “A vision with goals is required and the ability to articulate your thoughts to others and understand your own inner, moral compass. It is being built here at school through your religious training and your parents. Rely on that. Caring for others and respect for others are parts of leadership.”
  • Team: This is something Welles was enthusiastic about. “Enlightened leaders care about others on the team,” and the team is “one big family working toward a common good.”
  • “The Power of One” can make a difference.
  • “Bridge and Divide”: Creating an understanding between different groups. “A bridge of connections between people can solve many problems in the world. Many differences are misunderstandings.” She cautioned against being silent if there is a disagreement; it should be addressed with another respectfully.
  • Forgiveness: A hard virtue. It took Alison a year to process her thoughts and feelings of losing her son before she could even entertain the thought of forgiving the terrorists. “You have to find a way to release yourself from the power negative things have over you. If you spend your life dwelling over it, you waste your own life. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.”
  • Carpe Diem (seize the day):  Humans are capable of making change for good or bad, she said. “You embrace the challenge and glory of life so that you are able to look in terms of helping others, making the world a better place. This lies within each and every one of us.”

A question-and-answer session followed, with seven students asking questions.

“What would you encourage us to do that Welles did at this age?” one student asked.

“I want to encourage you to embrace what you are,” she said. “Be passionate about what you love and try new things, like Welles did.”

Crowther said each decision doesn’t have to be as life changing as Welles’ was on 9/11. “Just kind gestures throughout the day could make the difference in the world,” she said. “Enough of them can change the world.”

Exploration of courage

For five weeks, Brother Martin students and faculty delved into Welles Crowther’s life and how his actions on 9/11 impacted others through reading “The Red Bandanna: A life. A choice. A legacy,” written by ESPN correspondent Tom Rinaldi, as Brother Martin’s 2017 “Great Read” project. They learned he played lacrosse at Boston College, worked on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower and saved numerous lives while wearing his signature red bandanna to cover his mouth and nose from debris. He became known to survivors as “the mysterious man in a red bandanna.” The ESPN video, “The Man in the Red Bandanna,” produced a decade after the Twin Towers fell, was shown at Brother Martin as part of the talk.

Senior Andrew Butler identified with Welles.

“You always hear the phrase, ‘Live each day like it is your last day,’” Butler said. “Experiencing this and reading about Welles and what he did that day, he had the biggest challenge in life that day. The fact that he had no knowledge he might make it out, he did everything he could to help others,” senior Butler said. “I realized that I could be a voice to help others, not necessarily giving my life, but giving something.”

Crowther said her hope in speaking across the globe “is to plant seeds in the minds and hearts of people, so we have a generation coming forward that is going to be more compassionate and caring of others, more outwardly focused toward the greater good, not just me, as is so common today.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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