This week we are remembering and reflecting on the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Like many New Yorkers, I remember that day vividly. I was in graduate school and was in just my first week of classes pursuing my PhD at Columbia University. As the events unfolded on that day, I remember feeling forever changed as a person, a New Yorker, an American, and as someone who considers herself a citizen of the world.

Just a few days before September 11th, I was in Florida visiting my grandparents before the school year began. I hopped back on a plane just a few days before September 11th and began my graduate career. I woke up on September 11th and witnessed the first plane hit the first tower. It was a tower I had been in just a few months prior working on an art project. I thought about the artists who had shown myself and my peers an amazing day. I wondered if they were in the building. I wondered who was in the building so early in the morning.

I think my shock led me to actually go to class after what I had just witnessed. I sat in a Statistics class, fearful I’d fall behind, and suppressing what I had just witnessed. When I emerged from that class, my city, my country, and many nations across the globe would never be the same. I took a long walk since the university closed for the day and tried to wrap my mind around things.

As we wind down twenty years of war stemming from that day…as we remember the families in New York, Washington, DC, and across the country who lost loved ones…as we ask ourselves what we learned as a country, we hopefully will be cognizant not to make the same missteps moving forward.

As the 20th anniversary approaches, I am thinking of the best way to honor the many lives lost, not just on that day, but also the lives of the brave first responders who lost their lives in the subsequent months and years following 9/11/2001. We must remember the loss of fire fighters and EMS staff and Good Samaritans who stayed at ground zero for weeks after 9/11 on search and recovery missions.

I think I will start Saturday September 11, 2021 with a quiet reflection for the individuals and families impacted that day, in the United States and abroad. I will likely read a little James Baldwin (and the latter writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr) to help me better understand the bellicose nature of the U.S. And I will take a long walk like I did 20 years ago to try to process what happened then and in the subsequent years on the soil of the US, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream”, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.