Coming of Age in Post-9/11 New York

Now adults, a Harlem writer and her cohort reflect on the day that changed their landscape forever.

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Writer Brandee Sanders at the 125th Street Pier in New York City

As I curled up on my couch last week, flipping through television channels and eager to find something to watch for some sort of Thursday-night entertainment, I realized that I was out of luck. The Office was a repeat, I'm not a big fan of Wipeout and I had stopped watching Degrassi: The Next Generation by the time I was 15. I continued my quest to try and find something worth watching when I came across a documentary about Sept. 11. With the flip of a channel, I was instantly taken back to the most devastating day in my lifetime.

Ten years ago, on that Tuesday morning, I sat in my sixth-grade homeroom class on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, waiting for my father to pick me up and unsure about what exactly was going on. There was a rumor spreading around school that the World Trade Center had been hit by planes.

At first I was skeptical, but the faces of utter disbelief and sadness among my peers and teachers confirmed it for me. We sat in the classroom in silence, listening to the radio, waiting for what would happen next. When my father arrived, I ran into his arms -- an embrace that some of my classmates would never have with their parents again.

The car ride back to Harlem was filled with questions. What exactly happened, Daddy? What is a terrorist? Were they going to start hitting random buildings? Would the Adam Clayton Powell building on 125th Street, located a few blocks from my house, be next? Were we safe?

It wasn't until I arrived home and turned on the television that it really hit me. Right before my eyes was footage of the twin towers -- a place where I had once gone for a fourth-grade school trip -- crumbling as soot-covered civilians ran for safety. I saw damage from the plane that crashed into a section of the Pentagon and witnessed a billowing cloud of smoke rising from a field after Flight 93 went down near Shanksville, Pa.

In the weeks to follow, rides on the subway became forever changed. I took the No. 1 train from 125th Street to school every day while fearing that I would become the next victim of an attack. The images of the missing, taped to the walls inside the subway stations, are forever imprinted in my mind. It haunted me to know that most of the faces of these individuals, many with smiles so warm and promising, were of those who had lost their lives.

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My sixth-grade homeroom teacher said that this would be a day we would remember forever. I remember it as the day after which I had to grow up in a lot of ways; I am not alone among Americans my age. Exposed to the realities of terrorism and bigotry -- and bonding through patriotism -- my generation came of age in the wake of Sept. 11. A survey conducted by the American University School of Communications reveals that 71 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believe that day had an impact on their lives.

Not the Same Old News 

Prior to the attacks, the word "terrorism" was foreign to me. I'd never really heard it before and didn't know much about it. As names like "Osama bin Laden" and "al-Qaida" became common in my household, in school and on the news, I felt a need to grasp this concept in order to understand the motive behind what went on that day, and the state that our country would be in thereafter. After the attacks, 67 percent of the Millennial generation was more likely to be interested in the news, according to the American University study. It's one of the reasons I've decided to pursue a career in journalism.

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