Fallen Black 9/11 Firemen Paid Tribute In Film

Media outlets weren't rushing to tell Juanita D. Richard's story after 9/11. She lost her son, Vernon, 53, a member of Engine Company 16, Ladder 7 in Manhattan.

Richard's only call came in 2002 from a team making a documentary film about the 12 black firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attacks -- and their families.

''I wanted mothers to have a little recognition in their child's life. When a child dies, you still are the parent,'' said Richard, 82, who agreed to the interview.

``I was so sorrowful and tears were hard to come by because I was thinking about all the things growing up that I had to do to raise him.''

The stories are chronicled in a 28-minute documentary, All Our Sons -- Fallen Heroes of 9/11.

The film, completed in late 2003, includes interviews with seven of the 12 black families along with a Latino fireman.

Today -- on the third anniversary of 9/11 -- a Broward firefighters organization will show the film and remember the fallen.

''It was a tragic event, not only for the country but for people in general. As you sit and watch TV and see all the fallen heroes, you didn't see any black heroes,'' said Charles M. Ellington, vice president of the Broward County Liberal Black Professional Firefighters Association, a local chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters.

Ellington, a member of the Pompano Beach Fire Rescue Department, added: ``Our community needs some black heroes right about now.''

Lillian E. Benson,, producer, editor and director of the documentary, said that's the reason she jumped at the chance to make it. Benson, who was nominated for an Emmy for the civil rights series Eyes on the Prize II, said she was unsettled by the few faces of color that flashed across the screen in interviews after 9/11.

''Heroes come in all colors, and it is important to be inclusive,'' Benson said this week in a phone interview. ``Just because you say a black person died, it doesn't diminish the white life. We don't want to diminish anybody, but don't diminish us.''

Teresa Everett, executive director of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, said that while there is no definitive count, black firefighters are scarce in departments nationwide.

''In many instances, we are not represented throughout the ranks,'' she said, adding that the association's focus is eliminating barriers to employment and mobility, not equalizing percentages.

Ralph Rachels, president of the local International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, said he hopes the film will draw blacks to join area fire departments.

Benson's film was scheduled to be shown on television this month in Seattle, Memphis, New Jersey and San Francisco. It will air on WNET-Channel 13, a New York City public television station, today.

The documentary was shot over two weeks in 2002 with $6,000 in donations. Benson, who will not be at today's memorial, is pleased that people will see it. ''Everybody needs to see these men the way those mothers see those men,'' she said.

Juanita Richard, a Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, remembers her son as a diligent man raised in the Marcy Projects in New York City.

Vernon was the third of her seven children, four of whom are still alive. He was a father of two adult children, a product of New York City public schools and a firefighter who made captain in 2001. The family planned to celebrate that October, Juanita Richard said.

``That's what we had been looking forward to as a family and it didn't happen that way.''