By Julia Kathan, Chief Communications Officer, The Munshine Group
20 years. 7,305 days. Countless memories. Immeasurable impact.
Now, two decades on, we’re again moved to pay attention to those memories. Yes, the indelible images of September 11th, 2001. But, also, September 12th.
That sense of unity and caring, that desire to reach out and help in some way – in any way.
In the years since 2001, we’ve seen a swelling of spirit from time to time – neighbors helping neighbors in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and the outpouring of support for healthcare heroes in the early days of the pandemic – but nothing captures the idea that “we’re all in this together” like the stunning, surreal and uncharted aftermath of 9/11.
20 years ago, on that day, I was working at ABC News. While nothing could prepare anyone for what happened that crystal clear Tuesday morning, those of us in the journalism business launched into what we’re built for. Getting facts and asking questions, all against the backdrop of going through the same sadness, fear and personal fallout everyone was feeling and experiencing.
We asked the classic “W” questions. Who? What? Where? When? We worked to tell an overarching story with global impact as it unfolded, while also sharing individual stories of heroism, loss and pain. The search for actionable information that could help people find missing loved ones in that hellscape about four miles south of the newsroom, aware that the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were nightmare scenes of their own. We worked to connect people who had help to give with those in need of it.
We even asked and tried to answer Why? Why was there hatred and evil so extreme it came to this, an act so shocking and brutal it changed lives, and the world, in ways that continue to be felt?
Now, 20 years on, newsrooms are in my rear view mirror (but I’m still an admitted “news junkie”) and I work with colleagues and nonprofit partners determined, in a different way, to do their part every day to make the world a better place. Today, the question I am asking is How? How did the events of 9/11 help shape personal and professional lives so that a sense of community, gratitude and giving back guided us going forward? So, I did what I know how to do. I asked. I started with David Munshine, our President and CEO.
Although I was born in New York City and grew up in a nearby suburb, I lived in Boston for nearly a decade prior to 9/11. In fact, I moved back home and took an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on August 11, 2001. Having mastered Boston, that first month was sure exciting, but also disorienting at times. I had to get to know my birth city and new home all over again in so many ways, all while starting my first job as a consultant.
The morning of 9/11 began with my usual routine. Making coffee and putting the news on in the background as I plotted my day. As soon as offices opened, I had calls to make to donors on behalf of a client, so I began scanning my list and revving up to get started.
Then the news got my attention and I never did make any donor calls that day, or many other calls for several days after because the phone lines were all jammed. But I’ve never forgotten that one of the calls I was set to place was to someone who worked in the World Trade Center. And as things go, I never got to find out whether he was in the office that morning and, if so, if he ever made it home.
From that day, when, by evening the awful, unforgettable smells of 9/11 made their way to the Upper West Side, I felt I was where I belonged. The unity among New Yorkers and Americans was incredibly powerful, and the heroism from first responders and volunteers was awe inspiring. From tragedy and crisis, we rallied like never before in my lifetime. If there was one good thing that came from the devastation and tragedy of that day, it was the American spirit of togetherness and unity. That’s in many ways the same spirit that guides so much of what we and our clients do every day on behalf of the community.
While each experience is, of course, unique, David’s sentiments are echoed by Cindi Altieri, whose title is David’s Executive Assistant, but who is known and respected by all as integral to everything at The Munshine Group.
One of the biggest influences that led me to embracing the notion of “giving back” came out of 9/11. At the time, I was working at my local church as the church secretary (there were only two paid staff people – me and the pastor). Our pastor was also active as a chaplain for Seafarers and International House in New York City, where he went on a monthly basis to minister to the sailors on large cargo ships that came into New York harbor. He was a former Marine, so his ministry to seafarers was in his blood, so to speak.
I went into work on 9/11, turned on the radio at around 8:45 am and heard the live news of the crash into the World Trade Center. After a couple of hours as the entire weight of the event hit home, the pastor and I, with our church council President, began planning the church’s response – started a phone chain to parishioners to offer support, opened the sanctuary with day and night availability for mourners or for those who needed ministry, and generally working around the clock to help those in need. The same week, the pastor left the church and went into a nearby Hudson River port to serve as spiritual support for the workers on the site of the pile. He was in the city nearly every day, splitting his time between the church and the city. I had never before seen such an example of service to his community as I did in him during that time. He kept up his schedule of going into the city for many months.
Our small community lost three people to the attack, but many more in surrounding towns.
This experience showed me many things – life is short, giving back is easy, the rewards are endless.
I put the same question to Tonya Addy, our Executive Vice President.
9/11. . .
It was my birthday so, luckily, I went into work a bit later than usual. Living on the north shore of Staten Island at the time, I would typically travel directly through that neighborhood by MTA Express bus – during the same timeframe of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
I remember how shocking. . .unbelievable. . .devastating, it all felt. Our neighborhood was filled with commuters, firefighters, cops, so many that were lost. My friends were daughters of firefighters, or engaged to police officers, or some combination of both. There were connections to so many lost, everywhere in my life.
I remember the feeling of collective sadness in the halls of our apartment building, as we walked down the street and picked up our breakfast at the local bagel store. As I walked my dog each day, I looked up into the cloud of gray grit that filled the air.
It was a time of tremendous grief, but at the same time, of incredible community spirit. In the aftermath of that horrible morning, as we saw our neighbors and friends broken and sad, we offered a hug, a handshake, any help we could give. There wasn’t anyone in our neighborhood that wasn’t affected. And it was amazing how we all did our part to rally, but also rallied together. It solidified my understanding of the importance of “community.” The collective feeling of love and support was palpable. And powerful. It was a time in my life I will never forget, and that changed me forever.
The spirit of togetherness and unity. The rewards of giving back. The feeling of love and support.
We at The Munshine Group see all of that reflected every day in the nonprofit organizations we’re privileged to partner with. We see it in their people – their leaders, staff members, volunteers and donors – we see it in their missions, and we see it in the beneficiaries who receive much-needed help and hope.
And, two decades on, after many years being in newsrooms for events that shook and shaped the world – writing and reporting that “first draft of history” – I feel privileged to still be able to ask big questions, and get answers that resonate with me. . .mind, heart and soul.
With everything else it will always be known for, September 11th is now known as the National Day of Service and Remembrance.