Remember where you were.
Remember who you lost.
Remember what we lost.
The morning of September 11th, 2001, will forever live in the minds, bodies, and spirits of the American people, if not the world. No one will forget what they were doing that fateful morning when four commercial airliners were hijacked midflight by terrorists. Two of those planes hit New York City’s beloved World Trade Center Twin Towers, causing mass casualties and grief that lasts until this very day. A third flight flown from Dulles International Airport was hijacked over Ohio and crashed into the West side of the Pentagon causing a partial collapse. The fourth and final flight was flown in the direction of Washington, D.C., and was the only plane that did not hit its intended target because passengers fought to regain control of the aircraft that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. On this day 2,996 people died and over 6,000 people were injured. Millions of hearts broke and souls mourned for the safety of the place we called home that no longer seemed to exist.
What have we learned since that day? On September 18, 2001, one week after the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history, President George W. Bush signed into law the Authorization for use of Military Force Against Terrorism, which is still in existence and gives the President sweeping authority to use all necessary and appropriate force against those who committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.
After twenty years of fighting in Afghanistan, the election of Barack Hussein Obama in 2008, the death of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, we question whether we are safer now than we were in 2001.
Over these two decades we endured the Great Recession and ever-increasing incidents of racial profiling by law enforcement made nightly national news, and the nation has been in the grips of a pandemic for more than two years. The question we must ask ourselves is why we are so divided? What happened to the spirit of unity and national purpose that prevailed immediately following the 9/11 attacks? Radical factions and some political leaders have given words like patriotism and nationalism darker meanings. The “America the Strong”, “Home of the Brave”, and “We are in this Together” attitude that was proudly touted 20 years ago no longer seem to exist. Simple public health measures like wearing a mask or taking a vaccine have been politicized beyond recognition.
We remember seeing images of brothers and sisters wearing their first responder uniforms. We vividly remember the many tales of how many insisted on becoming a heroes on that flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. We know the many Black and Brown family members, friends, and neighbors gave their lives to serve in the Afghan War just so they could show love for this country.
Today, let us all take time out and remember the sacrifices that our sisters and brothers make to keep us safe and comfortable. Let us thank our first responders, our servicemen and women, and let them know we value them and do not take their daily sacrifice for granted. Let us live by deeds and actions and let our voices be heard.
Right now, the United States America is not living up to her promise. The fiercest opponents of our safety and democratic way of life seem to be within the country, not outside its borders. An attack on the U.S. Capitol is intolerable and sad. We must all insist that public policy be based on truth, not conspiracy theories and myth. Demand that the Congress and Senate lean into the will of the people, and not political expediency of the moment. We must be their divining rod on the issues. Elected officials represent the majority, not one group or faction. Voting rights, fair law enforcement, equitable distribution of resources are all indispensable part of the American dream. Let’s do our part to make it a reality.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Ph.D.
National Chair and Seventh President