It was an ordinary Tuesday morning for me, as I finished preparing myself in the mirror before I walked to my first class of the day at Southern University and A & M College. It was muggy in Louisiana, and I remember taking my time with my barrel curling iron, ensuring every strand of hair was in place. It was 2001, and we were still mourning the loss of our beloved Aaliyah a few weeks prior, so it was pertinent that my bang swooped perfectly in her honor. I was 19 years old, and my only concern that day was my looking cute for the boy I was crushing on that semester. As always, my roommate and I had our radio blasting listening to the morning radio show setting the tone for our day.
As we danced and sang along with the song playing on our radio the broadcast was interrupted. The hosts of the morning show were now on air screaming loudly that a plane had just crashed into the second tower. I recall my roommate looking puzzled as she said out loud to herself that this prank was not funny like the other ones they usually do in the mornings on the radio. I agreed with her, almost offended that the radio host thought this was an appropriate prank. Plane crashes weren’t funny. Where was the punchline? I did not stick around to hear the rest of their radio show and began my trek to the political science building. Everyone I passed seemed to be in frenzy, and I found out classes had been cancelled by the time I made it to the lobby.
I remember looking up and seeing flames on the tv screens that were mounted to the walls. I saw people covered in ashes running in panic from the World Trade Center which was now engulfed in flames. Other students around me let tears freely flow down their faces in sheer terror. I did not quite understand the magnitude of that moment, I just knew I had to get out of the building and back to my room as soon as possible. Before I made it back to my dorm, I encountered a group of classmates consoling another student who had been unable to reach his mother. She was scheduled on a flight back to Los Angeles that morning from the D.C. area, and he did not know if she had been on the hijacked flight that was heading towards Los Angeles.
The next person I encountered was my best friend who was in class when the plane struck the first tower. I remember she recanted a story she had jotted down in her notebook reimagining the horror of those who were on that plane in the final moments before it crashed. The terror that they surely endured as they crashed to their death with the realization that they would never see their families again. I stopped her mid-story because I knew my heart could not endure reliving that moment on behalf of those individuals. I had to lay down, I had to escape, and I had to absorb as much information about what had occurred as I prepared myself for the horrific details.
At approximately 8:45 am, on September 11, 2001, a 767 Boeing airplane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Less than twenty minutes later another 767 Boeing airplane forcefully ripped into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The impact alone was enough to ignite the towers into flames. Everyone above the point of impact had no logical way of escape. A large majority of the people on the floors below who were fortunate enough to escape prior to the collapse of the towers were injured, those who were left behind saw an untimely death as the building crumbled to the ground. Including those who saw their demise at the Pentagon, and the airplane that the passengers were able to overtake the hijackers before they crashed to their death, almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day.
The amount of devastation, loss, and destruction was unlike anything Americans had ever seen firsthand in modern history. As for my peers and I, comfortably situated on the campus of our beloved HBCU, we were no stranger to tragedy. The 6.9 magnitude earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1989, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, oil spills, hurricanes, and school shootings were a few of the things we had endured, but nothing of this significance.
This tragedy surpassed city limits, it transcended racial lines, and obliterated all class distinctions. The events that took place on this day destroyed our sense of security and challenged our young mortality. The attacks let us know that at any moment our lives could be put in jeopardy, it further tarnished our view of the world, and let us know that being Black was not the only strike we had against us. We were Americans, and that too was another danger we would now have to worry about.
Life changed drastically after that day. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act was passed creating the Transportation Security Administration, aka the TSA. Travel was no longer considered a hassle-free process. There were security measures put into place that included racial profiling of people with brown skin. Unfairly, anyone who appeared to be of Middle Eastern or African descent was now considered a threat on flights.
We were now subjected to searches of our person, and of our luggage, with the luxury of bringing a bottle of water with you from home now being weaponized. We collectively lost our sense of comfort as a nation. People became paranoid not knowing when the next attack on the country would occur.
For those who survived the destruction of the towers, health issues plagued them for years. If they were not physically harmed, thousands of others suffered from emotional damage on that day. Post-traumatic stress, immeasurable grief, and having to deal with the aftermath of those events proved to be too much for many people to deal with. This was not a tragedy that only affected a few people in their corner offices of the World Trade Center or Pentagon. It hurt everyone, from the secretaries that worked in office buildings, to the cleaning crew hired to keep the property nice, contractors who were on-site that day, and all the other individuals who started their Tuesday mornings out similarly to mine that day in my dorm. The trauma of that day changed the fabric of all our total existence.
As we go about our day, may we not only acknowledge those who died on September 11, 2001, but also acknowledge the many ways that incident has shaped our lives today. September 11th was a very traumatic day in American History, and as a Black person living in America, these disasters can sometimes affect us differently. Black people don’t always receive the aftercare that we deserve when bad things happen. A lot of us may have been made to feel as if this was not our tragedy or our loss to mourn. If you find yourself feeling uneasy as we commemorate this day, it is okay to take a moment for reflection.
Feeling the need to cry for the souls of those who lost their lives is normal. Just as wanting to submerge yourself in every news story and documentary about the event that you come across is perfectly normal as well. For my East Coast family or anyone who lost a loved one on that day know that we are here for you. We see you and acknowledge your pain. We have all been through so much and it is important to take care of ourselves.
Today I am two months shy of my 40th birthday, but I still remember how September 11th shaped my life. I vividly remember how I felt when I first heard the news and can still feel the panic in my body as I listened to the many stories of destruction. My heart still aches for the people behind the news stories who were tragically taken away. When I see the Black faces covered in ashes from the collapse of the towers, I know that this was a moment that none of us were spared from. The unrest is still here twenty years later, as well as the disbelief that something like that could happen. The necessity to heal from it all is still here as well. We deserve that healing.