Where I was 10 years ago today

On September 11, 2001, I was thinking about my future.

My plan for that Tuesday was unique.

It was the 2nd day of the 1st week of my sophomore year. I woke up that morning in my dorm room in Ann Arbor, MI at 6AM thinking about two things: my career and the Blueprint.. Before my classes started, I had an early meeting somewhere in Troy, MI. My mother had connected me with a man that was a former General Motors colleague of hers who had a few years prior left GM to create is own consulting practice. He was an electrical engineer whose consultancy had GM as his biggest client. He was quite successful.

I was a Computer Engineering major with aspirations of owning my own business. Meeting him was an exciting proposition to me, having just come off my 2nd internship at GM that summer. He was living the dream. I wanted to understand how he did it. I called my parents at home while I was in the car on my way to his office. I got there around 720AM for my 730AM meeting.

I won’t give his name, but suffice it to say that he and his business were awesome. He opened my eyes to entrepreneurship in a way that reading a blog post about Steve Jobs or a book by Jack Welch never could. He told me about how hard it was to run a business, and how much it was worth it. He told me he wasn’t swimming in money, but he and his family were quite comfortable. He told me how terrified he was the day he quit GM, despite the fact that he had a plan, but his faith and his family undergirded him. What I remember 2nd most about that meeting was the fact that this was a real person with a real business. He had pictures of his kids on his desk and a drawing of a tiger by his daughter on his wall.

What I remember most, however, was how I felt walking out of that office. We passed by a conference room and did a double-take. Why was CNN playing? Why where 10 people in there for an 845AM meeting on no one’s calendar? What was going on?

A woman in the office was crying. The screen showed one of the twin towers that defined the most famous skyline on the planet. It was surreal. We sat down and watched in horror. The coverage was scattered and frantic, mirroring the hearts and minds of everyone in New York and everyone connected to anyone in New York. I watched the 2nd plane hit the tower in that conference room. I watch the tower collapse in that conference room.

I got back in my car and drove back to Ann Arbor. I called my dad, a Department of Defense employee, to find out if he knew anything and if his office had been put on any type of alert. He basically knew what I knew. It was scary.

I got back to campus to find everyone stunned. I had class, but when I got to North Campus I found signs on the buildings saying classes were cancelled (I think that’s the only time that’s happened before). I was supposed to go to the mall with my then-girlfriend, but the mall was closed. In my dorm room, a combination of CNN and Jay-Z served as our soundtrack for the next several days. Our room, the biggest on our floor, was where everyone came to find out what was happening. Great hip hop mixed with catastrophic news. Our TV and our stereo remained on the same channel/CD for days and days.

What strikes me most about this day and the 10 year anniversary today is that I’m still thinking about my future. The “I had no idea I’d be here today” cliche applies to me. On September 11, 2001, I expected to be starting business school at MIT on September 11, 2011. Instead, thankfully and happily, I am siting in the basement of my beautiful home in DC with my beautiful wife of exactly 2 years and 2 months, watching New York on TV, just like I was 10 years ago. I’m working in politics for the public interest, not technology like I thought I would be. I woke up this morning thinking about my future, just like I did 10 years ago today.

On September 11, 2011, I’m still thinking about my future. We all are, and we all should be. But on this day, and every day, let’s remember how important our past is too.

One Love. One II.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora and am a National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I currently live in Washington, DC with my beautiful wife Ellen. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. Today I work at the crossroads of traditional political organizing and online activism. I speak before diverse audiences on empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation though emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet.

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