Colby Wiersema is a 9/11 baby, born on an especially dark day for Americans.
His warm smile and his red T-shirt, however, proclaim “I Am a Face of Hope.”
The fifth-grader from Westlake, near Lake Charles, born on Sept. 11, 2001, was one of 50 babies from each of the 50 states featured in the book, “Faces of Hope, Babies Born on 9/11.”
Part of the proceeds from the book, published in 2002, go to a Sept. 11 charity, Twin Towers Orphans.
Ten years later, author Christine Pisera Naman has revisited the children for a second book, “Faces of Hope 10 Years Later, Babies Born on 9/11.”
The new book features updated photos of each of the children, as well as a piece of art they created and a quote on how they plan to make the world a better place.
Colby; his mother, Melissa Wiersema, who is from Baton Rouge; and his grandmother, Joan Southern, who lives in Denham Springs, recently returned from a trip to New York City. All of the children featured in the books were invited to New York to get to know each other and bond over their shared birthday. More than 20 participated. Melissa Wiersema described both books as “uplifting.”
She said she often gets an “Ooooh” reaction when she calls to make a doctor’s appointment for her son and provides his date of birth.
“For us, it’s not an “Ooooh” day. For us, it’s a really good day,” Melissa Wiersema said. “It’s the circle of life.”
On the day of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, Melissa Wiersema said, she spent the morning watching live coverage of the events as they unfolded.
She had a doctor’s appointment later that day and then planned to go to work.
Melissa Wiersema said the doctor surprised her by telling her she was going to have a baby that day.
“You’re going to have something good come out of this day,” she said she was told.
Sure enough, Colby was born at 8:17 that night.
Within a month, Melissa Wiersema said, she received a phone call from Naman, who had located her through a birth announcement, telling her about the idea for the book.
Melissa Wiersema agreed to submit some photos of Colby.
Naman had the same agreeable response from the other parents she contacted.
“Remarkably, it was 50 calls for 50 babies. No one said no,” Naman has said.
The families met for the first time in New York City in August 2003, when the children were only 2 years old. This year was their second meeting.
The Wiersema family made it back home to Louisiana in time for their son’s birthday.
“We enjoy going to New York, but it’s hard,” Melissa Wiersema said. “I’m glad we weren’t there for all the memorial stuff. The people who lost loved ones need their time too. I don’t think it would be right for us to be there.”
During the trip, Colby Wiersema said, he enjoyed spending time with children from Arkansas, Colorado and Arizona.
“We would go and talk with each other,” he said. “We understand what each other is going through.”
Colby Wiersema said he hears the question constantly from friends: What does it feel like to have a Sept. 11, 2001, birthday?
“It’s important to my family because a good thing happened to them that day,” Colby Wiersema explained. “At the same time, it’s a very sad day because so many lives were lost.”
On the trip, he said, he met a woman whose husband was a firefighter killed while trying to save lives in the Twin Towers.
“It just made me really sad that some people lost friends and family members,” Colby Wiersema said.
Naman said she wanted to reach out to other moms following the birth of her son, Trevor, on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was just a paradox of emotions — sadness because our country was being attacked, but joy because we had new life in our arms,” Naman said.
The second book was appropriate because 10 years is a milestone, Naman said, both for the country and for the children, who are old enough now to be educated on the bigger picture of 9/11.
Part of the proceeds from the second book go to the Christina Taylor Green Foundation, Naman said.
Christina, who was born when the Green family was living in West Grove, Pa., was one of the 50 “Faces of Hope” in the original book.
She was killed in the Arizona shooting spree involving U.S. Rep. Gabriell Giffords.