January 8, 2011, is a day that most Arizonans will never forget. The day that a senseless tragedy took six lives and injured 13 other individuals at a Congress on Your Corner Event led by Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. We lost so much that day, but also saw how our community rallied together. People who had never met before suddenly had an unexplainable connection. Everyone wanted to help and everyone needed their neighbors, families and friends to start the healing process. That spirit was inspiring to all.
The concept of Tucson’s January 8th Memorial has gone from being a dream of some of the early supporters to being a reality now. The foundation that started with three board members has blossomed to 23. Congresswoman Giffords and Mr. Jim Click are the honorary co-chairs of the campaign.
The memorial will be built in El Presidio Park in the heart of downtown Tucson. It is a partnership between Tucson’s January 8th Memorial Foundation, Pima County and the city of Tucson. This is truly a heartfelt partnership and we are all striving for the same goal for our community.
In September, 33 members of Congress wrote a letter to President Obama asking for support for the memorial. The following week, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain wrote to the Department of Interior asking for assistance for the memorial as well as a National Memorial designation. Legislation currently is being written and we expect to hear great things from Washington, D.C., in the very near future.
The foundation has obtained approval from Pima County for several naming opportunities to raise funds to build the memorial, ranging from $100 to $1,000,000. The first naming opportunity was sponsored by Tucson Medical Center, which graciously is donating $500,000 to lead this effort.
There will be no naming opportunities in the memorial itself—sacred ground—but there are opportunities in the immediate area to show continued support from the community. For example, lanterns will light the pathways to represent the glow when people came together holding candles and light to support the survivors and victims during the tragedy. Outside the memorial, there will be six gardens, one for each victim. The gardens will be themed for each life lost. Nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green loved butterflies, one of her last drawings. Christina’s will be a butterfly garden to represent this passion.
As the sixth anniversary of the tragedy is quickly approaching, the foundation has decided to do something a bit different this year. On January 8, 2017, we invite the public onto Hi Corbett Field at Reid Park to help us create a Human Embrace (which is also the shape of the memorial). The gates open at 1 p.m. and the event will start at 2 p.m. We encourage Southern Arizonans to again come together and wear a white shirt to show support for our community and other communities who have gone through tragedies in the past year. U.S. Rep. Martha McSally will make an important announcement at the event—another important step for the memorial.
In a time when, sadly, we seem to see tragedies on television every day, some ask why ours is more important than another. Tucson’s is not more important or more significant. Every loss is devastating to families and communities. The January 8th tragedy holds significant historical events that put a spotlight on our community. Congresswoman Giffords was the first Congressperson ever to have an attempt taken on his or her life while meeting with constituents. It was also the first assassination attempt on a female member of Congress. Gabe Zimmerman was the first Congressional staff member to be assassinated in the line of duty.
Tucson’s January 8th Memorial Foundation feels a sincere responsibility to communities across the country. We know that our tragedy is in the headlines more than most and we want our memorial to represent the resiliency and the caring nature of people and how we overcome and still stand together in the face of tragedy.
Crystal Kasnoff is the executive director of Tucson’s January 8th Memorial Foundation