Drawing Parallels between 9/11 and COVID-19

How do Friars respond during crises? Fenwick has asked the alumni community to share memories of when the world seemed upside down and how, we as a community, responded.

This Fenwick alumnus, who visited campus back in February, remembers the traumatic period following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — and has an important message for today’s students.

By Dave West ’98

World Trade Center, NYC: the dreadful day the “Twin Towers” fell.

I was a senior at Duke preparing for a public policy class when the attacks of 9/11 jolted us all around breakfast time on a Tuesday morning. School abruptly shut down as did the country, and we quickly learned over the next few, confusing days that several graduated fraternity brothers, parents of classmates and thousands of others were killed in the towers, in the planes or in the Pentagon.

As a senior, thoughts quickly turned to what other attacks were next; how we’d ever get back to life as usual; whether there would be any jobs for us; and even whether a military draft might be brought back and we would all need to prepare to fight a new enemy halfway around the world. Our grandparents were “the greatest generation”… would we be good enough and up to the challenge?

Parallels to the present pandemic

The U.S. Pentagon on 9/11/01.

The answer was a huge, “Yes” then, and it will be again now. Despite the trauma of that day and the months that followed, the country persevered. I recommend students use this current pandemic shock to step back a bit and think about their goals, purpose and what they really want out of the next five, next 10, next few decades.

In my case, 9/11 was a catalyst to immediately pivot to pursue grad school and national security public service. I was able to serve in Washington and work with over 50 allied countries in counter-terror and anti-terror cooperation efforts. A friend of mine from Duke, lacrosse star Jimmy Regan, turned down a Wall Street job and enlist in the special forces, giving his life years later as a hero on the battlefield and inspiring us all even today. Others became doctors/researchers, teachers or strong executives building new companies, etc. 

The 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York City.

I want to underscore to the students that people generally, and our economy and country in particular, are incredibly resilient. Families, economies and life as we know it are taking a hit right now due to the pandemic, but we will come out on the other side of it. The world will need Fenwick people to help lead and deal with the uncertainty, so we should all stay focused, positive and ensure we’re ready when needed.  

Health and safety to all.

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A Mother’s Legacy of Caring

A Fenwick alumna’s post-Mother’s Day reflection on how being a good neighbor means loving your neighbor as yourself.

By Quiwana Reed Bell ’96

The author’s mother, Jacqueline Reed, founded the Westside Health Authority in 1990.

I was born the snowy winter of 1979 in Maywood, Illinois, to Jacqueline and Ronald Reed. My father, Ronnie, was born and raised a tough bi-racial kid from the west side of Chicago, near Pulaski and Roosevelt. My father never knew his mother.

My mother, Jackie, was born and raised in 1950 Natchez, Mississippi — a famous plantation town near the ports where slave-produced cotton and sugar cane was once exported. She is the oldest of seven children and grew up on family-owned land that also included homes for her grandparents (both paternal and maternal), aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors, who were like family. Her father, Oliver, was a handyman and janitor with a stuttering problem and a heart of gold; and her mother, Josephine, was a stern yet dignified seamstress who also worked for more than 20 years at the pecan factory. Her family of nine lived in a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house. They went to church on Sundays. They socialized and cared for each other. They didn’t have much but never felt poor. They were a community. And they were happy. 

Natchez, Mississippi, is about 850 miles south of Chicago.

My mother left Mississippi after high school, after having a child out of wedlock with a man who was unwilling to marry. She came to Chicago in the summer of 1969 to visit her Aunt Mavis, her dad’s older sister. She lived on 13th and Pulaski in a brick two-flat building on the west side of Chicago. Aunt Mavis had 10 children of her own with her entrepreneur husband Ed, who ran an auto mechanic shop. Although they owned the entire building, they lived in only one of the units which had two bedrooms, one bathroom and a back sun porch. Ten kids, two parents and now visiting cousin Jackie from Mississippi all in one unit. The block was lively. People sat on their stoops in the evenings for entertainment. The kids would play loudly up and down the streets.  Neighbors knew each other; supported each other; fought and gossiped about each other. It was a family. A community. And they were happy. 

During her summer-time visit, Jackie met Ronnie, who was a friend of her cousin Roger. They quickly fell in love and married only three months after meeting on February 14, 1970.  Jackie never returned to Mississippi to live. In Mississippi still was her infant son, Derek. He had stayed with her family while she traveled to Chicago. This was not a big deal. The family was seen as a unit. Jackie’s son Derek was not her property, but a member of a larger family unit where everyone contributes, supports and belongs.

Sharing brings happiness

This was a sentiment taught to my mother very early on in her childhood. She was born in segregated Mississippi where black people were still forced to live separately. This separation, however, was not all bad. Black communities had viable businesses — bakeries, dentist offices and insurance companies. It was a community where people looked out for one another. I would often hear stories of how if one person on the block killed a cow, then everyone on the block would have meat. Similarly, during my summers that I spent in Natchez, MS, I would often hear my grandmother say, “Go run this pot of greens that I picked and cooked over to Ms. ‘So and So’s house.” It was natural to share. It was natural to help others. It brought happiness. My mom never felt poor. She didn’t have a lot of fear and anxiety. Her family lived in peace. Even amid all the stuff going on in the world — they were shielded in “their community.”

A riverboat lights up the Mighty Mississippi near Vidalia, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi.

Black folks have always had to be communal with each other in America in order to survive: 

  • We had to help each other as we were packed like cargo at the bottom of slave ships.
  • We had to help each other as we sang songs together in the long days in the hot cotton fields in Mississippi.
  • We had to help each other as we navigated our way through lynching and rape and beatings.
  • We had to support each other in demonstrations and boycotts fighting for equal rights.
  • We had to support each other through redlining/housing and employment discrimination.

Today we still have to support each other through families being ripped apart as a result of mass incarceration, disinvestment of neighborhood schools and economic opportunity, and the resulting crime that plagues our communities.

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