How I Should Be…

Mark Frasco - President


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December 2001, the month I completed my Master’s degree in Organization Development; our country, the world was different as a result of the World Trade Center attacks, just three months before. Every adult in our country became deeply reflective about our freedoms and how tenuous our security had become.

I remember feeling frustrated that I couldn’t help. Within a few days after the attack, citizens of our country were asked to suspend their pilgrimage to Manhattan. So many were flowing into New York City to do whatever they could to help; there was no way to accommodate their pure generosity.

In May 2002, plans were coming together that would bring 5,000 citizens from around the country and world, with the goal of seeking feedback on preliminary designs to rebuild and memorialize the World Trade Center site. Mostly through programs like the one I had just completed, there was a global call out for professionals who had experience in large group facilitation.

I submitted my resume and portfolio of experience, gained by working with Fortune 500 companies during my studies. I knew the odds were long that my application would be noticed, but to my surprise, in June 2002, I received a package of instructions with a cover letter that congratulated me on being selected as a facilitator at Listening to the City: Remember and Rebuild being held at Javits Convention Center, in New York City, July 20, 2002. It was a moment I will never forget; I had earned the honor of helping heal the spirit of a grieving country.

There isn’t enough space here, nor is it the place to supply the details (click here for summary report of event: Listening to the City: Report of Proceedings), but the feedback given that day was gathered at tables, organized electronically, analyzed and disseminated back to the whole group within minutes, on large high-definition screens hung high above the participants. Two lasting memories of the feedback were that people wanted the footprints of the two WTC buildings to be treated as hallowed ground, and they wanted their majestic skyline restored. The six preliminary designs we reviewed that day, did neither. The plans called for 16-acres of densely populated, shorter office buildings on the site. The statement that most resonated with me was “It looks like Albany!” Nothing against Albany, but the people of the city wanted the new building(s) to make a bold architectural statement – they wanted a landmark structure.

Over the past decade, I’ve visited New York City often. For no particular reason, I had not returned to Javits Convention Center or the World Trade Center site. This past week, I attended the National Retail Federation (NRF) Annual Conference at Javits, to visit with clients. Although the ambiance was as different as it could be, memories started to flow through me: the surrounding area, the doors I entered through, the structure of the great hall, and the rows and rows of round tables, each forming a circle of grieving citizens, largely unsure about why they were there. I expect many attended for the same reason I did – to help.

freedomtowerAt the completion of the NRF conference, due to bad planning on my part, I found myself with an extra day in the city. I suggested to my travel mates that we consider a visit to the 9/11 Memorial. As the taxi arrived at the site and I swung out of the back seat, I was not prepared. I stepped onto the curb in front of 1 World Trade Center; what we called the Freedom Tower, stood majestically before me. My first thought was, this is definitely not Albany! I was awestruck at the structure. It was everything event participants hoped for on July 20, 2002: significant, architecturally bold, unique, a landmark that makes a statement and could be seen from miles around.

Not more than a hundred yards from the Freedom Tower is the footprint of the WTC North Tower memorial, with the same for the South Tower a few steps beyond. Simple, thoughtful, respectful; names of those who lost their lives are etched into the bronze plate shelf-edge, with water falling from the high perimeter to a smaller, deeper, disappearing hallow. Needless to say, few words were spoken… none were needed.

footprintmemorialTracing my memories of July 2002, from my arrival, to visiting Ground Zero, to meeting and working with those who’d lost loved ones, I changed. I realized how important it is for us to come together, hear each other and share our feelings and thoughts. I’ve learned the power of building a shared vision or idea of the future. The sooner we can engage the larger system and hear what that system is telling us, the more rapid, meaningful and sustainable the change becomes. As a leader, I will never forget the lessons of that July day. This past week was a powerful reminder of how I should be.

If you’d like to read the article that my classmate and I contributed after our work in 2002, click here. BGSU Alumni at Ground Zero: Facilitating Rebuild and Remember Discussions

Questions or comments? Please contact Mark Frasco at mfrasco@teamCOACT.com.