Eleven years ago today, I received a note from the main office at my school in Los Angeles, California. When I arrived at the office, I was told to return a phone call from a family friend who was watching my sister and me while my mother was away at a wedding. She was scheduled to return home later that day. Almost immediately after dialing the last number, the call was answered. "Evan, listen to me. There are terrorists in the country. They are hijacking planes and crashing them into buildings. Do you understand me?" I didn't. I was only twelve years old. I had no idea what a terrorist was capable of doing or what hijacking was. Shaken, I walked back to class just as they were turning on the television to find out what was happening on the East Coast. I was shocked and scared, and found myself unable to wrap my mind around what was going on. My mother was safe, but she wasn't able to fly home for over a week. In the years following the disaster, I would think about what happened that morning, still unable to grasp the catastrophe that had occurred. What I have come to discover is that I had never really understood just how tragic the September 11 attacks truly were.
On Sunday, I visited the 9/11 Memorial. Instead of taking the subway from the East Village where I had spent the morning, I walked to the Memorial in order to spend some time reflecting upon that day. I have seen documentaries and read articles about September 11, but it wasn't until the moment I entered the Memorial that the tragedy seemed real to me. The Memorial itself is breathtaking. The two pools located in the footprints of the original Twin Towers seem to demand personal reflection. I don't know anyone who lost their life on September 11, so it was hard for me to think about that day on a smaller, more personal scale. After entering the Memorial, I approached the South Pool, which is closest to the entrance. Along the side I found myself staring at the names of 441 first responders who lost their lives that day. Something about seeing just one of the nearly 3,000 inscribed names changed the way I thought about 9/11. I stayed by the first name I encountered for a long time. I thought about his heroism and his dedication to service. In my head I pictured the life of someone I had never met and would never have the privilege of knowing. I thought about his family and friends who didn't know they wouldn't get a chance to see or speak to him again. It was that moment that I realized just how devastating that day was. I thought about the first responders and their steadfast commitment to the wellbeing of others. They gave up their lives helping others. In my mind, that is the ultimate sacrifice.
The dedication of those who came to the aid of those in need that day has inspired so many to give back. I moved to New York City two months ago to serve as a Project Leader at City Year New York. City Year is an education-focused nonprofit organization which, under AmeriCorps, aims to fight the national dropout crisis by placing diverse teams of young adults in underserved communities. City Year operates in over 20 U.S. cities and with two international affiliates in Johannesburg, South Africa and London, England. The organization was established in New York City in 2003 by City Year alumni and local supporters as a way to harness the rise of social concern and volunteerism in the wake of 9/11.
Ten years after being established, City Year New York focuses on work with students in public schools in the South Bronx, East Harlem, Long Island City in Queens and East New York in Brooklyn. Last week during City Year New York's Opening Day ceremony, nearly 300 corps members from all over the country pledged to serve the schools and communities of New York City, helping to give students the extra support that they need. The passion and dedication of this year's corps is unlike anything I have ever seen. I know we will do great things and I am proud to serve New York City this year.
In our service with City Year, we are often asked to think about why we serve. I served my first corps year with City Year Los Angeles from 2007-2008 as a gap year between high school and college. I served before because I was excited about the change City Year was bringing to schools in Los Angeles and I wanted to be a part of that change. I serve now because I know that the work City Year does is not only important to the students and communities we serve, but it is also incredibly effective. I hope everyone is able to take time to reflect upon the tragedy that occurred and remember those who lost their lives eleven years ago. From what I have observed, service is incredibly and uniquely important to the people of New York City and I am proud and honored to serve alongside them this September 11.
For more information about City Year, visit www.cityyear.org. To find out how you can get involved in service today, visit www.911day.org.