Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing the morning of September 11th. Twenty years ago, I was not a journalist. I was working in corporate America in Finance. My office was near the Sears (Willis) Tower.
I was a newlywed, married in August; I discovered I was pregnant with my 1st child. I had horrible morning sickness and couldn’t make my business trip to New York. I sent my analyst instead to attend a client meeting with my boss. They stayed at the World Trade Center hotel. There was a breakfast meeting scheduled for 9 am. They never made the meeting, and we never heard from those clients again. Thankfully my coworkers escaped with minor injuries, but our clients never made it out of the towers. My analyst came home and quit. She moved back to Colorado after that. We were forever changed, realizing the people we spoke to almost daily via phone would never call again.
I watched in horror the events of 9/11. The mass exodus out of downtown, the frantic phone calls to my then-husband and my mom, who worked near O’Hare Airport, the day was frantic. Then, finally, we all raced home and watched with the rest of the country a horrific attack on American soil.
Pregnant with a life growing inside of me, I wept as people trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Center fell to their death. Those are images I’ll never forget. When the towers collapsed, so did I. I thought about the thousands of people just like me, who went to their offices to work and provide for their families who would never return home. I felt overwhelmed with grief and sadness.
I went to my church for a prayer vigil. I didn’t know what else to do but pray. My ex-husband and I were still trying to reach his brother, who lived in NYC. What was happening? Was this the beginning of a war? Everything was scary and uncertain.
Amid the grief and fear was a unity I had never felt before, especially as a black American. On 9/11, it was “us” and “we.” No matter your race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation, at that moment, we were Americans who had been attacked and were unified in our resolve.
Fast forward 20 years later, and we are more divided than ever, and the threats to our quality of life are now domestic. The terrorists live here, and they seem to get stronger. Racist white nationalists openly display their hatred. They are even attacking the US Capitol. Racist and biased police are killing black people in record numbers, and terrorists continue to hold our communities hostage, with gun violence killing our own people without a conscience. We wept as we watched death in real-time on 9/11. We wanted to fight back. We wanted justice for those killed. Where is the same sentiment for hundreds of people killed every day by gun violence?
The unity we felt on 9/11 disappeared so quickly. We were united and ready to fight a common enemy. Now the war is at home. Fighting racism and white supremacy that is challenging everything our ancestors fought for. From the right to vote to the right to teach history accurately, to a woman’s right to choose and the right to exist in this black skin, our country is fighting wars on American soil, and its citizens are choosing sides.
We can’t even fight a pandemic as a unified nation. Despite science and factual evidence, people are choosing not to get vaccinated. People are fighting against wearing masks in public to protect one another from this deadly virus. Make it make sense!
America’s greatest threat isn’t from the outside; it’s from its citizens right here at home. Twenty years later, we still haven’t learned how much stronger we are together.