Like many Americans, I will never forget the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001. The memory is written indelibly in my brain as though it happened yesterday.
I was at my computer frantically typing away at some article, trying my best to meet yet another looming deadline. With the computer on and the radio and TV off, I was locked deep in my own thoughts, oblivious to what was happening in the rest of the world, until the phone rang. “Damn, I forgot to turn the ringer off,” I thought. My first impulse was to ignore the call and keep writing. I look at the caller ID and saw it was my mother-in-law. I immediately answered it. She asked if I had seen what happened on the news. I said, “No, is everything alright?” She replied, “You need to turn on the TV right now. Something terrible happened — a plane has crashed into the World Trade building in New York.”
My first reaction: What a terrible accident, but I wasn't going to turn the TV at the moment because I was working. I’d check it out later and say a prayer for the victims. But there was something in the sound of my mother-in-law's voice that intimated that this was much more than a mere air-traffic accident. I remember her saying something to the effect that the world was coming to an end. So I turned on the TV to see what was going on.
I was struck with the image of one of the Twin Towers wrapped around a huge Boeing 767 plane, with smoke and flames billowing out like a chimney. Needless to say, I was shocked. And, while my mind was busy trying to process what was happening, I saw the second plane in the background slowly fly into the other tower. “Oh, my God,” I said. I couldn’t believe it. At that moment, I felt like I was literally in some kind of apocalyptic nightmare. And to a large extent, I was.
The familiar sense of safety, security — the sense of freedom that we as Americans took for granted so glibly, was brutally erased when those planes crashed into the Twin Towers. And in its stead was a sense of fear and anxiety that closely mirrored the kind that I remembered growing up with in McComb, Mississippi in the '60s and '70s. But, just as it always did in past crises, my fear slowly gave way to strength. It is this kind of strength that gave New Yorkers the fortitude to pick up the pieces and keep going. For me, 9/11 crystallized some of the ideals that I had gleaned from the works of James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry David Thoreau and others. It made me realize that, if I am to do my part to make the world a better, safer place to live in, then I need to continue to fight for world peace and social justice.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Gulnara Samoilova)