As the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States nears, Caribbean legislators in New York have been reflecting on one of the darkest days in American history.
“As America’s longest war ends, and Sept. 11th nears once again, it is critical we not only reflect on what was lost but what could have been if not for either,” Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told Caribbean Life on Tuesday. “Make no mistake, this is a moment for celebration and reflection.
“While the war in Afghanistan has ended, and the United States looks towards its next chapter, we must take the lessons learned from one day and two decades of tragedy and promise to never again invoke the same mistakes,” added the representative for the predominantly Caribbean 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.
Clarke’s trailblazing mother, former New York City Councilwoman Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, the first Caribbean-born woman to be elected to the City Council, said her compatriot husband, Leslie Clarke, worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey during the two attacks on the then World Trade Center.
“The first time, he went to the hospital downtown (Manhattan); the second time was Election Day,” Dr. Clarke said. “He was in the field watching for her daughter (Yvette) to be elected. I keep reminding my husband that that there are always miracles in life, and there’s a reason for everything.
“God knows if he wasn’t in the field what would have happened to him,” added Dr. Clarke, alluding to the second attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Veteran Caribbean legislator Jamaican-born Assemblyman Nick Perry, who represents the 58th Assembly District in Brooklyn, said: “Two decades ago seems like a long time, but America has not forgotten the tragedy we all faced and the lives that were lost in the terrible attack on our beloved city and nation.
“Each year as we join the families who still mourn and grieve their loss, as Americans, we remain committed to our resolve that those who attacked America will pay,” he said. “And we will fight as a great nation with all our might to protect our freedom and spread our vision for liberty and justice around the world.
Brooklyn Council Member Dr. Mathieu Eugene said “the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001 will forever be ingrained in our memories as an unimaginable attack against the principles of freedom and liberty that our country was founded on.
“It was 20 years ago that we watched helplessly as thousands of people from all nationalities, religions and ethnicities lost their lives in New York, Washington, D.C, and Pennsylvania,” said Haitian-born Dr. Eugene, who represents the 40th Council District. “We also witnessed incredible acts of bravery and heroism by first responders, including the hundreds who perished on that awful day.
“This tragic moment in history reminded us that we are all human beings, and we are all part of the fabric of the United States, no matter our country of origin,” he added. “Collectively, we must support and comfort one another in times of sadness and anguish, while working towards a better future for our global community.
“On the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, let us pause and reflect on the lives of those taken from us, their grieving families and friends, and the legacies they left behind,” Eugene urged. “As a city and as a nation, we will never forget.”
Eugene’s compatriot, Rita Joseph, the Democratic nominee to succeed the term-limited Eugene in the largely 40th Council District, said she will never forget where she was on Sept. 11, 2001.
Joseph said she was in her second year of teaching at P.S. 6 in Brooklyn, and was teaching a 5th-grade class, along with her co-teacher, only identified as Mr. Jean.
“The principal, Ms. Adams, (may she rest in peace) made an announcement over the loudspeaker to request that all teachers turn on the televisions that were in every classroom at the time,” Joseph said. “On that day, and in that moment, none of us knew what was happening, and Mr. Jean and I turned on the television, so our students and I could watch.
“In hindsight, I really wish we hadn’t done that so our students didn’t have to witness the attack,” Joseph added. “I distinctly remember watching in horror as the second plane hit the second tower. I knew that some of my students had parents working at the towers, so I instinctively started making calls to them.
“I made a number of calls; but, to this day, one stands out to me,” she continued. “The father of one of my students worked at the Windows of the World, a restaurant located on the top floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I called him and to my relief, he picked up. The only reason he wasn’t there that day was because he had switched his work schedule with another co-worker, who was unfortunately killed.
“When he told me how he wasn’t at work because he switched the work schedule, my initial reaction was joy, quickly followed by dread,” Joseph recalled. “I realized that his survival meant someone else likely died in his place.”
She said she thinks of “that dreadful day more often than” she would like, adding that, every year, the P.S. 6 community remembers those who passed by taking a moment of silence.
“With each passing year, it becomes increasingly important to never forget the victims who were so cruelly robbed of their lives and the first-responders who put the welfare of their neighbors before themselves,” Joseph said.
Another Haitian legislator, New York City Council Member Farah N. Louis, vice co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus in the City Council, said, while time may has passed, “the memories and heartache remain for the thousands of families whose lives forever changed after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“We have never forgotten the loved ones that we lost in New York City and across this nation,” said Louis, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn. “We remember their bravery, compassion, unity, hope and resiliency in the aftermath.
“With the 20th anniversary fast approaching, our eyes will once again turn to the ‘Tribute in Light’ that will illuminate our city near the footprints of the Twin Towers, as we reflect and observe moments of silence for those we miss dearly,” she added. “May their legacies continue to live on through us while deepening our commitment to teaching future generations.”
Haitian-born Registered Nurse, Mercedes Narcisse, the Democratic nominee for the 36th Council District in Brooklyn, said she will never forget the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
“Like most New Yorkers who were in the city on that day, no amount of years will erase the memory of those events from my mind,” she said. “And I will never forget those who perished, and those who worked to unify our city and nation in the time after the attack.
“If I learned anything from that fateful day, it is that life is never guaranteed, and we must cherish each moment and celebrate life through good deeds and service to others,” Narcisse urged. “I continue to pray for those who died as a result of the 9/11 attacks, and for the continued healing of all those who bore witness to that day that will not soon be forgotten.”
Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, the Haitian-American chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, said all who lived through the attacks not only remember but can never forget the devastation felt on that day.
“This year, as I look back and reflect, I am forever grateful for the service of our everyday heroes and police and FDNY (Fire Department of New York) troops who made the ultimate sacrifice to save others from a horrible fate ,” said Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn.
“Time does not heal the wounds of that day, but I believe our city and borough are stronger because our neighbors came together to support one another,” she added.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, said “the memories, the pain, the devastating impact of unimaginable loss remains heavy on the hearts and minds of New Yorkers and the nation.
“I pray all who lost loved ones have found some measure of healing and modicum of peace, remembering not only those who were killed on that day but all, especially first responders, who have suffered and lost their lives to illness as a result of their courage to provide aid in the area of the attack,” he said.
“After two decades, the collective trauma of this tragedy is forever imprinted on New Yorkers’ minds, our hearts and our history, and we must continue to comfort those in mourning, support those in need and remember those we lost,” Williams added.