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New York City
October 2001

Diary of a Stuyvesant Teacher: A Muslim Point of View
By Anthony Valentin

11 Sept 01
These accounts are the most emotionally drenching images I have ever tried to recount. I work at Stuyvesant High School “in the shadow of” the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center–about 3 blocks away. This date and its images will accompany me to my grave.

At the end of the second period I raised the shade to one of the windows in the classroom and saw the top of the north tower of the WTC engulfed in smoke and flames. The students in my incoming class told me that from the windows of the classrooms they saw people jumping from the upper floors of the WTC towers, as well as cascading debris. From the window, I saw Chambers Street full of people running with the urgency I’ve only seen in disaster movies. At the end of the period, it was announced that students should report to homeroom and wait for instructions.

A student from my third period class asked me if he could go back to the classroom to retrieve a textbook he had left there. I told him that I would go with him. As I walked up the stairs, I came across two female students who were crying. One of these students was wearing traditional Muslim attire. I asked if they were okay and the most-composed student said “yes’, but told me that students were making accusatory comments insinuating that the WTC disaster was a terrorist attack by Muslims. I told the student that was crying that I too was a Muslim and that Allah will be with us all. I attempted to remind her that the Lord would not abandon her or any one of us. He knows all and knows best. I told her to seek me out should she be fearful again. She said she would and we parted.

Suddenly, an announcement was made: “Please stop what you are doing. Teachers should escort their classes to the exits on the north side of the building.”

I began to walk north and heard a car radio announce that Manhattan was completely isolated from the rest of the nation. No one was entering the city. I had no money, I didn’t know if the ATM machines were functioning, the ash and smoke was creeping further north every second and my family didn’t know if my school and I were engulfed by the calamity. I decided to keep walking. I found a phone hoping that it would connect me to my parent’s home. I had to end my call quickly because the smoke and ash was getting closer and some of the ash was actually falling like flakes of snow. My throat was feeling the effect of this.

I worked my way to Chinatown and the Manhattan Bridge. The Manhattan bridge archway now welcomed a stream of people rather than cars. The Brooklyn bound lanes were filled with people escaping Manhattan, while the Manhattan bound lanes were for the use of emergency vehicles coming from Brooklyn.

As I reached the center of the span I looked toward the area once dominated by the sight of the towers and all that remained was an enormous plume of dust, ash, and smoke. I was frozen in place for a moment, then I was forced to move by the stream of people. Upon reaching Brooklyn, I encountered many people distributing cups of cold water to passer-bys. I was so grateful for that water and kindness.

As the Brooklyn sunlight took the shade of the ash-laden air, I reached my parent’s home at 2:30 pm to the hugs of friends and family.

If you never thought you could control thousands of students in time of crisis, let me now tell you it is possible. These kids were incredible. They were orderly. They were following instructions. They were fully aware of the gravity of the situation.


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