If you were old enough and curious enough, most of us can remember where we were when tragedy struck. Historically sad events have a way of freezing that point in time like it is suspended in dry ice; only thawed by the heat of another heartbreak. Again, if you are old enough one can remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot. For African Americans, like myself, it seemed like any chance for progress was dashed against the rocks. I was six years old sitting in my great-grandmother’s kitchen. I was marveling at the track loops made by my miniature race cars. I remember my great granny slumping against the door frame when a neighbor knocked and gave her the bad news.

Malcolm X was a feared man by white America and he also scared my granny. His assassination opened my eyes, there was nothing wrong with being a strong, smart black man, and some things were worth dying for. When Dr. King was shot I was playing basketball with my friends in the street, makeshift hoops hung from a stop sign on one corner and a telephone pole on the opposite corner, those were our goals. I and my friends hung our heads and slowly made our way home knowing our grieving parents would be waiting, another champion for our civil rights was struck down; Robert Kennedy was the last hope, our parents told us. I woke up the morning of June 6th thinking my last hope was still breathing; shortly thereafter my last hope died.

Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, were silent deaths, at the hands of police, mourned by the black community, and looked upon as just desserts for the victims by most of white America. The killings of black men, women, and kids went on, ignored in most cases, as deserved extra-judicial killings: Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, Oscar Grant, and of course the catalyzing agent that finally united America’s sense of justice, George Floyd. Although surviving his brutal and unjustified beating, Rodney King implored us to all ‘get along.’

It is a shame it took violence and barbaric brutality to unite us, but that is precisely what happened the morning of September 11, 2001. The deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans united all of us, for a fleeting moment. The first crack in that wall of unity was the animus directed at American Muslims, who were just as appalled and just as heartbroken as other Americans, but forced to retreat and hide in the shadows by bigots. Rumor, fear, and innuendo manifest themselves in beatings, death, and destruction of property.

Like most of you, I spent the weekend looking back and reliving the heartache of 9/11. The phone calls from my then-wife’s worksite, trying to dry her tears from afar; The calls to my kids; The drive to my job. My memories are hazy and vivid all at once. Wanda Anita Green was an extended member of my family through marriage. Wanda Green was 49-years old and had been a flight attendant with United Airlines for 29 years: She met her final fate in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Flight 93 was her last flight—never forget. 

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  • September 13, 2021