On September 11, 2001, my mother, Katrina Womack, was on the PATH train headed into the city from New Jersey to her job at Prudential Financial. However, she never made it to work. As she walked up the stairs of the World Trade Center stop, she heard a loud crash and the building shook. That was the first plane crashing into the first tower.
“Nobody knew what was going on but I could hear everybody saying, ‘Oh, a small plane hit the building.’ But where I was coming up wasn’t a part with all the debris,” she said. “However, upon seeing the crowds of people congregating outside, she looked up and saw that the “small plane” wasn’t small at all.”
“I crossed the street on Broadway where you could literally see both buildings. I just stayed out there and then my friend Tracy called and was like, ‘Where are you? Do you hear what’s going on?’ She came to where I was and we stayed there and watched everything unfold,” said my mom. “We watched everything, we watched the people jumping out of the building, we watched the second plane go into the other building…”
While standing in shock and horror watching the scene with everyone else who crowded around the building, the second tower was about to fall. My mom said she heard the “crack…crack…crack” sound when the building was ready to give out. She looked at Tracy with unease. Then suddenly, the building fell like a deck of shuffling cards is how my mom described it.
“I’m looking at Tracy like, ‘Is this building gunna fall?’ and she was like, ‘No, it’s not.’” That smoke started coming around the buildings. I looked at Tracy and by this time hundreds of people outside were watching. It looked like everybody turned to face us and started to run.”
My mom and Tracy both ran down the street, barefoot with their heels in hand when they ran into an officer, who grabbed them and threw them inside the New York Stock Exchange. As soon as he shut the gate, you could hear the force of the soot and smoke swallow every person on the street.
“It was so powerful, it was knocking people onto the gate. Boom! You could just hear it. When he opened up that gate - I’ve never seen anything like it - people laid out in the street covered in soot, bleeding from the glass and particles that were in the air because the smoke was busting windows. It was the worst thing I’ve seen in my life… the worst thing,” my mom said, covering her mouth with her hands in horror as she remembered that moment. “Like… if these people just covered in the soot look like this, can you imagine what was going on in the actual building?”
If that officer had never grabbed my mom, she would’ve been either dead or injured from the impact of the smoke. She and Tracy were able to make it back to Jersey to my house, where 2-year-old me, my dad and my 9-year-old sister were waiting for her.
“I remember coming into the driveway and you all were standing outside. You were so little and when I got out of the car it was like you knew something was wrong. You grabbed my leg and all of you hugged me, crying. I was in the bed, literally, for a week crying my eyes out,” she said.
Not only did the tragedy itself change the country in terms of security and protocols, but the atmosphere of society shifted dramatically. Hate crimes spiked, Muslim people were harassed left and right and even my mom felt uncomfortable at times being around Middle Eastern individuals. Now, more than 20 years later, Muslim people still can’t board a plane in peace and sometimes Black people have their hair and braids checked at security.
Today, when I remember the attack, I mourn for the loss of those innocent people. Watching the documentaries, listening to the phone recordings, all of it shook me knowing my mom could’ve been gone. Yet, I also shook when I learned about any other massacre we’ve experienced right here at home. Tulsa, Rosewood, Wilmington and many more massacres are examples of terrorism that we’ve experienced before the planes hit the towers.
I take note of how this country fed the stigma around race and religion since that day and treated it as the poster-terrorist attack as if we’ve never seen such senseless violence before. Yet, it’s much easier to blame the violence and upheaval on the non-white demographic.