“Anybody can tell you how to do it/ but they never did it…”– “Already Home,” The Blueprint 3
New York City is the best city in the world. I say this with the unabashed pride of a native New Yorker, as I’ve called this place home my entire life. Those who visit for the holidays, or pursue Sex and the City-style career dreams, get to experience the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps, for a short time. But for those of us from New York, the pride is in our accents, attitude and even our DNA. The Yankee fitted, a sea of ROC signs in a sold out Yankee Stadium, and a never-ending love for the King of N.Y, The Notorious B.I.G., makes Jay Z a larger than life NY staple of his own, but just as much a child of this city as any one of us. There’s no question in my mind that Hov could run for mayor one day, and easily win if millennials have their say. And it’s why he was able to take one of the darkest days on the calendar and flip it into a celebration at Madison Square Garden on September 11, 2009. In that move, he gained a lifelong fan for life.
My life changed on September 11, 2001. My city was attacked, my father was almost lost and yet I gained the greatest gift because he made it home. But thousands didn’t. I was reminded every day for months, with missing person signs covering the subway stations at West 4th Street on my way to class at NYU. It continues to be a hard battle for me 14 years later. Ever since that day, I feel panic in large crowds, that sometimes leaves me paralyzed. I panic whenever a subway car stops for too long. I avoid rush hour whenever possible. It was the first time I felt my safety was not in my hands, and the mortality of loved ones. But even with the anxiety I still struggle with, I could never imagine leaving. I endure it, because that’s what New Yorkers are taught to do at a very early age.
I’m still reminded when my dad compares fearful moments to the way he “felt on 9/11,” although he very rarely talks about what he saw at the World Trade Center that morning with no cloud in the sky. While I watched towers disappear from my view at Washington Square Park, my dad saw bodies falling from the sky like office supplies. We visited the site a month later, when I was allowed to enter my dorm at South Street Seaport, and we were both numb from the stench, the smoke, and the skeleton of a landmark that was taken from us, by those who hated us and we had no idea why.
Every year, we listen to the names of the 2,977 lives lost on September 11, and my heart numbs when I hear the victims with my last name. They could have so easily been Dad. In 2009, the feelings were the same, and continue to be every year. But that year, Jay Z brought hope back to the city, through hip-hop music. On September 8, 2009, Jay announced that he would hold an “Answer The Call” charity concert at MSG on the anniversary that year, and he would donate proceeds to the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.
At a press conference alongside then New York Gov. David Paterson and New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, million dollar man Jay Z stated what we were all thinking in the city at that time, even if we just had a couple of dollars in our pockets: “This is my chance to help out and do something.”
And the most exciting part of the concert news, were that tickets were only $50. So anyone with quick Ticketmaster fingers had a chance to attend.
That night, Jay Z brought back heart for those who had the chance to attend. Jay performed music from the newly released The Blueprint 3. It’s one of my favorite in his collection, because it’s laced with “I’m still standing” hustle, and “You haven’t seen what I’m capable of next” ambition. Resilience was apparent with the first responders honored on the stage, and the energy was thick. And as New York natives Mary J. Blige, Puff Daddy, Alicia Keys and a slew of others hit the MSG stage, the pride swelled even more. It was a huge symbol to those who tried to kill the spirit of the city, that we aren’t going anywhere.
Even though the memories of 9/11 will never go away, nor do I want them to, I want to remember the blessing my family was given—and the lives on the missing person flyers who never made it home— I remember the pride and excitement I felt in 2009. After I listen to the reading of the names ceremony, I turn on Spotify, and remember that NY’s spirit isn’t going any damn place.
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