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Currents - Sept 2011 - Message from the President
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Message from the President

 

Giving Ourselves Room to Remember, Honor, Memorialize and Move Forward

 

Susan Nayowith

We probably all remember where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. I voted in the primary election. Who remembers the beautiful clear blue sky? It was three weeks into my new job at an agency serving homeless individuals, and we were getting ready to hold a meeting with our program directors. One colleague, in shock and surprise, told us she witnessed a plane fly into one of the World Trade Towers on her way to work. We listened in horror, wondered how this terrible accident happened and then learned another plane flew into the second tower. None of us could comprehend the magnitude of the incident or how the terrorist act would change our lives forever.

At first we tried to reach our loved ones and friends to find out who was safe and who was not. We reached out to our program sites to find out about the clients we served. Which staff needed to go home and which ones could stay? Where did we need coverage? How could we do our work and help our clients when we were concerned about our safety as a whole? How would we move forward? Our group mobilized, as many others did, to continue to provide services, assist staff and ourselves to move forward. All day long we watched the sea of people walk north on Eight Avenue – first a small group then larger and larger – through our office windows, until the late afternoon when the numbers started to dwindle. When I left the office in the evening to go home, my usual walk was no longer so usual. A group of us traveled downtown together. No subways were running. Only emergency vehicles were driving in the city. There was an eerie silence. Stores were closed. Deliveries were halted. There were checkpoints at 14th street, at Houston, Canal and so on. You could not pass the barricades unless you had identification. I convinced the machine gun-carrying national guard I lived downtown. Before then I did not carry identification or my license with me. I did not need to in the USA. As I continued downtown, I saw the St. Vincent Hospital’s medical teams ready for victims who

never arrived. Their south wall became an instant shrine and memorial. Makeshift shrines and missing person fliers and photographs lined the streets. We lived with scores of emergency vehicles: first, NYCHA dump trucks lining Houston Street. When the magnitude of the situation became clear, 18 wheelers, one behind the next, after having their wheels washed down, took debris to the Staten Island landfill or to the barges on the waterfront. Television news crews were everywhere. My community lined up on the West Side Highway with flags and posters to cheer on the World Trade Center Workers and Service Personnel committed to rescue, recovery and then removal. We went to work every day and waited for ‘things to get back to normal.’ I am not sure they ever did. They did not for the folks who lost their loved ones, colleagues, neighbors and friends. They did not for those who lost their businesses or places of employment. They did not for those of us who once felt safe going anywhere, anytime. And, for those who could not return to their apartments or their jobs until they were cleaned of ash and debris, for those who could not drive their cars into or out from downtown, for those children in school downtown with delayed openings, for those of us who were used to traveling without identification, hopping on a flight at the very last minute, for those of us used to going anywhere in the city we wanted, any time we wanted… things changed very, very slowly. Depending on which way the wind blew, and it did not always make a difference, the smoke was a vivid reminder to us of the lives lost, our innocence lost and our security at risk. I think we were all a bit on edge from the loss of lives in our community and those at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. We were anxious about the ‘next’ attack. Many Social Workers put aside their own fears to assist others who needed help. We volunteered at the Support Centers at 23rd and Lexington and then at the Pier on 57th Street. Social Workers helped people find out about their missing loved ones, connected people to available services – government and nonprofit, provided information and referral, and offered support, grief and trauma services.

As we remember the experiences of 9/11, we need to remember and articulate the role Social Workers play in the lives of communities we serve to ensure social justice and social services for all. While many people have been re-building their lives, NYC is re-building the World Trade Center Site as a concrete symbol of hope and remembrance. Perhaps we need to give ourselves the room to remember, to honor, to memorialize and to move forward by continuing in our long and important role as advocates for the people we serve. NASW-NYC needs to partner with our government, nonprofit, academic and private sectors to ensure NYC continues and maintains our strong commitment to our citizens.

Moving into the New Year we need to be mindful of our own association and the direction we are headed. I look forward to working with our newly-elected board members. This year, we have three new officers on the Executive Committee: Martha Adams Sullivan as President-Elect, Thomas Sedgwick as Treasurer and Nancy Miller as Secretary. I am appreciative of the leadership, commitment and support of our Board to tackle the numerous challenges nonprofit organizations face today. I look forward to working with Dr. Jeane Anastas, President of National NASW, and Dr. Betsy Clarke, National NASW’s Executive Director, to make NASW-NYC and National the strongest and most representative membership organization it can be.

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