By Wayne Dawkins
Sonya Ross, Associated Press White House correspondent, was traveling with President George W. Bush on Sept. 11 when all hell broke loose.
The 43rd president was at a Sarasota, Fla. elementary school to witness a class of mostly Black first graders who could read exceptionally well, reported CNN in a Sunday documentary.
However, the feel-good “no child left behind” moment ended when Bush’s chief of staff walked up and whispered into his ear: A jetliner had crashed into one of New York’s World Trade Center towers. Bush appeared frozen with shock however he was hustled aboard Air Force One. Ross was among the handful of press corps in tow.
“Are you safe? Asked my sister the minister, who somehow managed to pierce the [toppled] cell phone towers,” Ross told the online site BlackWomenUnmuted.
“Of course, we’re safe. I’m with the president,” said Ross.
“Oh [said her sister]. We’re praying for traveling mercy.”
Ross also recalled, “I was operating on adrenaline Sept. 11 and 12. On the morning of the 13th, I watched the local news. A station showed school pictures of three children who were on the jetliner that crashed into the Pentagon.
“When I saw that sweet little boy Bernard, I broke, and the tears came.”
This week there are numerous commemorations of this 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on America. It is worth noting the Black journalists at the highest levels of mainstream media who excelled from their front row seats to history.
There was Rehema Ellis of NBC News. That Tuesday morning was supposed to be her day off. Ellis was in her lower Manhattan apartment when the first of two jetliners suicide bombed the towers. Ellis charged into action.
Once at the scene, Ellis and a videographer did a four-minute initial report that was a master class on how to cover a breaking-news catastrophe.
She pointed to an abandoned fruit stand. Pulverized concrete was ash coating the apples, pears and plums. Ellis talked with firefighters doing their best to evacuate office workers from the towers. She talked to numerous citizen eyewitnesses.
Uptown, Gerald Boyd, a history maker as the first Black managing editor of the New York Times, was getting his hair cut at a West Side barber. He leaped from his chair and rushed to the office. Boyd “flooded the zone” with reporters to cover every possible angle of the blockbuster story. The burst of energy resulted in six Pulitzer Prizes the following spring.
Sharyn Flanagan was a copy editor at USA Today, based then in Arlington, Va. near the Pentagon.
“I worked the night shift and could pretty much sleep through anything,” wrote Flanagan in 2006. “The TV news was running all that morning and I didn’t wake up until everyone, I mean everyone, kept calling me, which never happens.
“By the time I finally decided to pick up the phone, I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing: terrorists hit New York and the Pentagon was hit. What?”
“I had a broken arm that had just been placed in a cast days before. I hadn’t even mastered putting on pants with a zipper yet. I damn near fell over trying to put on my jeans so that I could find out why there was so much ruckus in my condo that overlooked the Iwo Jima memorial.
“I tried to donate blood but was told to come back after my cast was removed. I felt helpless. I needed to do something constructive. I tried to cut off my cast thinking that somehow, I could heal without it and then rejoin the Marine Reserves.”
Ross recently retired from AP. Boyd, 56, died in 2006.
Flanagan is an editor at the Philadelphia Tribune. Ellis continues to helm the “Education Nation” beat for NBC and in fact did a piece on how teachers were instructing Georgia students, who were not born at the time of the attack, about the 9/11 milestone.
Just thinking about 9/11 which turns 20 on Saturday is surreal. There were people who felt guilty because they stayed up late for the opening of “Monday Night Football” and reported to the WTC late, or not at all. Their lives were spared.
But nearly 3,000 people were killed. They should be honored.
Also remember the journalists who instinctively ran toward trouble to capture the story.
The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.
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