I think it is safe to say, out of the many birthday parties, family reunions, marriage dates, births of our children, and other such life events, September 11, 2001 is one of those moments in time that is seared into the memory of those who were alive to experience it. Whether you were in New York, here in DC, watching on the television, or listening to news updates on the radio, you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, how you felt, and more. I, like so many, remember every component of that day so well.
It was a morning like any other morning. There was no reason to think something catastrophic was on the horizon. I dropped my daughter off at daycare and headed into the Radio One studios in Lanham, Maryland. The first studio I encountered as I entered the building was Russ Parr’s morning show studio. The door was open and chatter was spilling out into the hallway. Supa Ken steps up to me and says, “What’s wrong with your people?” I had no clue what he was taking about and inquired what was up. He said that someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center. Now, I paused and thought, ‘Again? Someone just did that a few months prior. What’s really going on?’ That was my initial thought. Upon stepping into the studio and seeing the images on the television. I said to him, “That was not an accident.”
I left his studio and went around to the WOL studios. As a news talk station, it was the only other station that had a television. I joined the other who crowded around. I was amazed at what I was seeing. At that moment, it was just a crazy incident happening in New York. But as we stood there a bit longer, we witnessed the second tower getting hit. Suddenly, every media and journalistic fiber in our beings jumped, the mood shifted, and things got really real. We moved with a purpose. We needed to get information. We needed to give information to our listeners. There was no real time to feel or have any emotions at that time. There was only time to work, to be the voice of information, calm, and encouragement during what was clearly an attack.
There was no Praise 104.1 at the time. I was the gospel person on our sister station WKYS on the weekend, and worked with Winston Chaney of WYCB during the week. Standing there with Winston planning on continuing his show beyond his usual end time (as all morning jocks did), he turned to me and said with great certainty, “Those towers are coming down.” “What,” I asked in disbelief. Those towers are not going to be able to stay up after that. They’re gonna fall.” I could not and did not process what he was saying. It seemed like a concept so far from the realm of possibility. And he made this comment only moments after the second plane hit. Tragically, some time later, his words would prove true.
Before that moment, however, we would receive word that a plane hit the Pentagon. “The Pentagon?!?!” That was beyond too close to home. I immediately left the station. You see, my then husband was a Marine assigned to an anti-terrorist task force. I was sure he would be called to Quantico. I just wanted to go get my daughter, but my thoughts quickly turned to my sister. She had just given birth and was newly married to a man who was working at the Pentagon. I headed to her apartment. She had no clue what was going on. So many I reached out to had no clue what was going on. I found myself still in journalist mode and informing the public, only it was my own family. With each call, I could not believe the news report I was delivering over and over again.
I could go into intricate detail of so much more, but then every one has their story; their memory. My heart, my prayers, continue to be with those most closely touched by this tragedy and who have to re-live its devastation each year on this day and each day of their life.
A few years later, I moved to New York City to do radio. The city was still so much on edge; functioning, but on edge. There was a time I sat and had a conversation with my colleague, Bishop Hezekiah Walker and talked to him about 9/11. He lost so many members of his congregation. He said every time they start to move on, there is another reminder; always a reminder. Either it’s a 9/11 anniversary service, a new memorial to a lost loved one, or the horrible calls that another body part was found and identified as his member or a member’s loved one. Even now back here in DC, I think of the sister in my church who lost her mother at the Pentagon, stuck trying to figure out how to raise her 5 children without the help of her mother. The continual words of encouragement by well-meaning people do not fill even a corner of the hole the attacks carved into her very soul. Thinking of my sister’s now ex-husband, unable to handle the trauma of climbing out of the Pentagon rumble then walking miles from DC to their home in Prince George’s County. The scars go far beyond the physical.
There is no one in this country that was not touched by the events of 9/11. If not on that day, then through the aftermath of investigations, congressional hearings, tax hikes to pay for retaliatory wars, and on and on. How do you adequately honor those who lost their life running toward the danger to help save others? How do we properly memorialize the thousands who had no reason to believe they would not return home that day? How do we make sense of the senseless? We do what we do every September 11th. We remember and maybe, just maybe, we can truly show each other the unconditional, unpolitical, nonreligious love of God.