- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

The dedication of a memorial garden yesterday at Madelaine V. Leckie Elementary School evoked a spirit of courage and optimism among family and classmates of a fifth-grader, a teacher and two parents from the school who died in the September 11 jetliner attack on the Pentagon.

“This is a day of sunshine and hope to remind you that whatever the tragedy … hope is our obligation,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Clementine Homesley, the school principal, said the “living memorial garden” celebrates the lives of 11-year old Bernard Curtis Brown II and sixth-grade teacher Hilda E. Taylor, who were aboard American Airlines Flight 77, and parents Marsha D. Ratchford and Johnnie Doctor Jr., U.S. Navy information specialists working at the Pentagon.

Mrs. Taylor was accompanying Bernard, remembered for his ever-present smile and passion for basketball, on a trip to California that he won in an essay contest sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

Two other D.C. students and teachers also were aboard the jetliner for the field trip.

Leckie Elementary was one of six D.C. schools that lost students, teachers or parents in the attacks. In addition to the ceremony at Leckie Elementary, hundreds of other students and school officials also paused yesterday morning to remember the losses. Outside D.C. schools headquarters in Northeast, they sang patriotic songs, prayed and flew two special flags.

At Leckie Elementary yesterday, Bernard’s mother, Sineta Brown, said she was “glad and honored” that her son’s name would live on in the memorial garden, though dealing with the grief was still a struggle. She recalled how Bernard was “glowing” when he made his first three-point basketball shot.

“I just remember his smile,” she said. “He was a happy child. He loved school. He loved basketball.”

Attending the ceremony were Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda W. Cropp, D.C. Council member Sandy Allen, Navy Vice Adm. Kevin P. Green and Barney Barnum, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy.

Students from prekindergarten through sixth grade at Leckie Elementary designed and built the garden with the help of the nonprofit Washington Architectural Foundation and an army of community volunteers.

A concrete path with the students’ handprints pressed into wet cement winds through the garden, which is divided into a section for each victim. Throughout the garden, designed to bloom year-round, are dogwood trees, crocus and Christmas fern. Special plants and plaques also mark each section.

Bernard’s corner has a basketball pattern in the path and a collection of perennials that will bloom every spring.

Mrs. Taylor’s section has a heart etched in the path and features a camellia that will grow into a large shrub with red flowers to resemble the rose garden she tended at home.

The U.S. Navy seal decorates the sections dedicated to Mrs. Ratchford and Mr. Doctor. The featured plant is forsythia, a large flowering shrub of the olive family that blooms in winter with a mass of yellow flowers.

“It is a nice garden but it makes me feel sad about what happened,” said Janaye Stokes, 11, a sixth-grader at Leckie Elementary. “But it has [Bernards] basketball thing, and that makes me feel good.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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