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Still mourning a friend, 10 years later

A beautiful morning gives way to tragedy and grief



“It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky

The universe exploding ’cause of one man’s lie

Look, I gotta go – yeah, I’m running out of change

There’s a lot of things, if I could, I’d rearrange”

-Bono on U2’s “The Fly”


My college roommate, Chris, died on Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the 95th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Chris, just 28 at the time of the attacks, worked in technical support for Marsh and McLennan in Tower 1. Marsh and McLennan is a U.S.-based global professional services and insurance brokerage firm. What follows is a description of how I came to learn that he was missing on the evening of 9/11.

The color of the sky on the morning of Sept. 11 was probably the most beautiful blue I can remember. No humidity. No clouds. Living in Georgetown and working in Bethesda at the time, I spent about a half-hour in the car on the way to work in the mornings. At the time, I listened to CDs while driving so I was unaware of any activity in New York. I arrived before 9 a.m. at the office with my boss telling me she’d just heard on the radio that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. In my mind, I did not think much of it. Probably a Cessna that flew off course, I thought. An accident.

I went about my business. My boss continued to pay attention to what she was hearing on the radio. After she heard that the second plane had struck the World Trade Center, we all agreed to go across the street to Rock Bottom. We needed to see what we could not believe was happening at the towers. We were not the only office workers who had this idea. The bar was filled and the restaurant had lowered large viewing screens tuned to CNN.

As I watched the horrifying images from New York, I could not even grasp the magnitude of this event. What was playing out before me was indeed the most violent act that I had ever seen. And, it was all happening on U.S. soil—we were being attacked.

I went outside of the bar to make some calls to my friends in New York. Many of them were traders in the financial district. And I knew that Chris also worked at one of the firms on or near Wall Street. I was not sure at the time who among them actually worked in the Trade Center. It had never been important to know in which building they worked.

I pulled out my cell phone and made a couple of calls. The calls failed. As the morning progressed and the news of the planes crashing at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., emerged, people drifted out into the street and began to contact loved ones. Texts soon started to come through on my phone. Everyone in my family that worked in downtown Washington was safe and in the process of putting together plans to get to their homes. I received a text from a guy that I was dating in Rehoboth. We had planned dinner that night as he was coming into town for business. He was at the train station in Wilmington: “All trains cancelled. Talk later.”

I tried getting through to New York. Same rapid busy signal. Texts to my friends in Manhattan were not returned.

I eventually found my way home that afternoon and sat in front of the television—as most Americans did. As night fell, I sent out a text to my college friend that I knew did not work on Wall Street, but out on Long Island. Maybe he had heard some news. “Is everyone OK?” To this day, I will never forget the wave of sadness that overcame me as a result of the one-word response that I would soon receive. The text read: “Chris.” Nothing else needed to be said for me to realize that my college roommate, my friend, was among the missing.

In the days that followed, my friends and I would talk on the phone periodically. We had hope. Chris would turn up. I wore a picture of him on a string around my neck. In hindsight, I think it was my way of telling people that I was in shock. Chris was the last person that I would have imagined to be in the middle of this awful attack. He was innocent.

I sat in my room one night looking at my caller ID and remembering the phone call that Chris made to me at 11:30 p.m. one night the week prior. I had just brushed my teeth and was getting into bed. I saw his number come up and I didn’t want to answer. Given the time of night, I thought he would probably have been out to happy hour and would be annoying. I wasn’t in the mood. “Hello Foxy! Pick up your phone. Pick up your phone, it’s Chris. Well, alright, I will talk to you later. Bye Foxy!” Yeah, he had gone to happy hour alright. This was my last communication with him. It was one-sided. I wish to this day that I had answered.

In the ensuing years, when I thought about Chris and that infamous day, I often wondered how the events had played out for him. I had hoped it was quick and that he was quietly humming a U2 song while doing some busy work. He was a huge U2 fan and the idea that he could be playing back a U2 song in his head was not a stretch. Chris was musically inclined and would often play guitar and sing songs from “Achtung Baby” in college.

In preparation for writing this piece, I sat down at my computer and read the Wikipedia entry that outlines the timing of events for the day of 9/11. As I navigated my way through some linked sites, I discovered that Flight 11 had struck the IT center for Marsh and McLennan — the exact office where Chris worked. It was fast. But now, 10 years later, the memories are fresh, and it’s still painful.

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Words create worlds, so what kind of world do we want to live in?

Free speech comes with incredible responsibility



It seems that each new day brings a fresh debate around speech and the weight of impact that speech holds. Back in October hundreds of Netflix employees staged a walkout protesting their company’s controversial Dave Chappelle stand-up special. At issue were a number of jokes aimed at the transgender community. The protest happened in response to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos’ defense of the special, saying that “content doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” This statement could not be further from the truth. Not only do words carry impact and directly translate to real-world harm, words form our conception of the world and oftentimes what is seen as truth. The language we use and condone shapes how everything around us is perceived, which is why there is great responsibility in considering the words we use before we put them out into the world. 

We think about this every day at Reading Partners, an organization that places community volunteers in Title I elementary schools to support students in mastering reading skills. Because many of our volunteers do not share racial identity or a similar lived experience of the students we partner with, it is incredibly important to us that they understand that their role is to empower students who need a little extra support rather than coming to “help” or “save” them. The white-savior narrative has historically run rampant in spaces looking to mobilize volunteers for a cause and it is our responsibility to dismantle this narrative. This dismantling starts with the language we use and the stories we share about the communities we have the great privilege to partner with. Given that structural racism and oppression have created the current conditions facing under-resourced students, it is incumbent upon us that we recognize our role within the community and understand that we are here to act as a partner with students and their families whom have already created plans to address gaps in learning.

Because of the impact words yield, it is essential to carefully consider language choice, especially if it could affect marginalized and oppressed groups. Even those who have good intent, like journalists and public figures, often use outdated language and phrases that stigmatize communities or frame them through an othering lens. Some common examples of misguided language often used include phrases like “low-income students,” and “learning loss.” Both of these phrases place responsibility on students for the situation they are in despite the fact that students do not receive income, or have intentionally chosen to miss out on learning opportunities particularly with the disruptions that COVID-19 created. This type of framing has a direct corollary on how these students might be treated by teachers, administrators, and tutors, as well as how they are viewed by leaders, politicians and other people who hold power. It is therefore important that we use terms that accurately describe the situation, which may need to include political or historical context—so instead of “low-income students” we say, “historically under-resourced communities,” while a more accurate substitute for “learning loss” is actually “unfinished learning.” While these are subtle shifts in language, it completely reframes the situation, elucidating who shares responsibility for the current state of things and who does not.

It is also of note that the positive or negative connotations inherent in the language we use are hugely important to how we see those who may have different lived experiences than our own. At Reading Partners, we know that our students are not in fact “struggling” or “suffering from a lack of” something. We highlight our students as they are: “working hard,” “enduring,” “skill builders,” etc. despite growing up in a world where they have been denied access to high-quality literacy education. 

It is a fallacy that words cannot do harm. Language has served to dehumanize and subjugate people for as long as it has existed and it is often those in power who have the loudest voice. We as people, institutions, corporations, media, and otherwise must think through what we say and how it might impact others. Let’s be clear—this is not about censorship or ‘cancelling’ anyone. Language changes all of the time and it can be hard to keep up with. We are simply making the appeal that those in power, and with platforms, continue learning from and listening to those who have been harmed for centuries by systemic injustice. Free speech is a privilege, and with that privilege, there is incredible responsibility to utilize language that truly aligns with and demonstrates the user’s values.

Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan is executive director of Reading Partners DC, a nonprofit that for more than 20 years has helped empower local students to succeed in reading and in life by engaging community volunteers to provide one-on-one tutoring. If you’re interested in learning more and becoming a volunteer visit

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Why are gays so terrible at intergenerational friendships?

D.C. should create buddy program for elders



Let me just start with a question. How many friends outside of your generation do you have? I mean honest-to-god friends. In my friend group, as large and fungible as that can be in the District and in the age of social media, it’s sort of me and a few other Gen Xers, and then just loads of Millennials. They do look to me to pass down some knowledge, but it’s mainly to do with the ins and outs of mortgages and things like that. 

But is it me? Or are gays just really, really terrible at having intergenerational friends? It’s striking. I’ve recently developed a friendship with — let’s call him — Bill. He’s almost 80. Maybe it’s the historian in me, but I just love the stories. But more on that later. For now, to ask another question, just why are gays bad at having friends removed from their respective generations? 

On social media this week I posted an obituary from a Houston paper dating from 1978. It was obviously from a gay man. You can tell from the coded language, “long time resident of this city despite stays on the West Coast.” And if that didn’t give it away, it ended with this rather heartbreaking language, “his parents requested that his friends not attend the memorial services!” Bill told me these sorts of obituaries — terribly vague but also cruelly pointed — were quite common in the dark days of AIDS. And this is succinctly why I think gays are so bad at having intergenerational friends, we’ve simply lost an entire generation of elders. And what was exactly lost with that generation is far more than can be enumerated in this column. 

Back to Bill’s stories for a second. There is a real value in oral histories, the telling and passing down of shared experiences make our culture certainly more valuable and rich, at the very least far more interesting. And again, this is nothing new, as cultures across the globe seek to capture personal stories and first-hand viewpoints of history unfolding. But it’s not just the story itself that’s important. It’s also the perspective and opinions. These remain nuanced between generations. Again, that’s really not saying anything new. But these varied opinions and outlooks, if not shared and debated risk isolating gay men into rigid and unchanging views crafted in echo chambers. 

Also, gays place a large premium on youth. And this, again, is nothing new, nor particularly gay. We just like what we like. But as Bill told me, he’s rather annoyed that any interest he expresses in a younger man is automatically filed under lecherous behavior. Let me just deal with this right here: We all, no matter the age, display to varying degrees lecherous behavior. Just get us a little dehydrated, a little tipsy, and throw us on the sand of Poodle Beach and watch the unwanted flirting unfold. So. But still we have to do better than mistaking anyone displaying interested in us as a simple sexual advance. That seems rather juvenile.  

With contact between our generations low, we are in danger of passing down a culture to future queer Americans that might seem a little lopsided and even a bit, well, shallow. But what’s to be done? I’ve commented in past columns on how we’re failing older LGBTQ Americans, especially in the District. To remedy this, we should use what I call the Chicago model and what is being done at the Center on Halsted, the city’s LGBTQ community center. The Center offers numerous programs geared to the city’s LGBTQ senior population. But one that sticks out is a sort of a buddy program, pairing seniors, even those in care facilities, with younger friends. This would certainly help us here in the District better care for our LGBTQ seniors, and would also of course help with the bridging of our considerable generational divide. So perhaps we could reproduce this here in the District. 

For now, I’ll continue to buddy up and enjoy my time with Bill. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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Texas synagogue attack a reminder to fight anti-Semitism

Supporting Jewish community after latest tragedy



Congregation Beth Israel (Screen capture via ABC News YouTube)

It was an all-too-familiar moment. A relaxed Saturday afternoon. Until an alert flashed on my screen. A gunman had taken hostages at a synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, in Colleyville, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. He’d gone into the synagogue during Sabbath services.

It was an hours-long ordeal for the rabbi and three members of the congregation who were held hostage. The police intervened. The hostages emerged safely after 11 hours. The gunman, Malik Faisal Akram, died.

Like so many hearing this news, I was horrified, saddened, frightened, and shocked, but not surprised.

The hostage-taking at the Texas synagogue is part of a pattern of rising anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League has tracked a rise in anti-Semitism in the United States in recent years – from the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where marchers threw Nazi salutes to the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting that killed 11 people in Pittsburgh.

I don’t want to draw a false equivalency. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia aren’t the same as anti-Semitism. But there are parallels. As I heard about the terrifying attack on the Texas synagogue, I remembered how frightened, enraged and sad we felt in 2016 when 49 LGBTQ people were killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre and how traumatized our community was by this attack.

As I write, much remains unknown about the hostage attack on the Colleyville synagogue. Authorities in the United Kingdom and the FBI are still investigating the situation.

Akram, the attacker at the Texas synagogue, came from Blackburn, England. In 2020, MI5 the U.K.’s counterintelligence and security agency, had investigated Akram, the BBC reported. The agency kept him on a watch list as a “subject of interest,” but determined that he wasn’t a “threat.” The FBI is investigating the hostage-taking at the synagogue as terrorism, the Washington Post reported. The authorities don’t know how Akram was allowed to get to Dallas or to buy a gun.

During the attack, Akram referred to Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated woman known as “Lady al-Qaeda” and convicted of terrorism. Siddiqui is in a federal prison in Fort Worth for trying to kill U.S. soldiers, the Post reported.

Akram’s brother, Gulbar Akram, told media outlets and authorities that Akram had a mental illness.

Though the attacker’s motive still isn’t known, it’s clear that the Texas synagogue wasn’t randomly targeted, experts say. “It wasn’t a government office. It wasn’t another house of worship by a different faith community,” Holly Huffnagle, the American Jewish Committee’s U.S. Director for Combating Antisemitism, told NPR’s “Morning Edition.” “It was targeting Jews.”

Why should the LGBTQ community care about the attack on the Texas synagogue and the rise of anti-Semitism?

First, of course, because of the Jews in our community.

Those of us who are Jewish and LGBTQ know the double-whammy of encountering anti-Semitism along with homophobia, biphobia and/or transphobia. We run up against this prejudice in everything from slurs to stereotypes to violence.

Those of us who aren’t Jewish don’t know what anti-Semitism is like, though we may have Jewish family members or spouses who have experienced anti-Semitism. But because we’re LGBTQ, we have run into bigotry. We’ve been called names, discriminated against and wounded and killed by anti-queer violence.

Anti-Semitism and anti-queer bigotry aren’t identical, but I’d wager that many who are anti-Semitic are anti-queer.

“Then they came for the Jews,” wrote Martin Niemoller, a Christian pastor who resisted the Nazis in Hitler’s Germany in a poem, “And I did not speak out/Because I was not a Jew/Then they came for me/And there was no one left/To speak out for me.”

Our community needs to look within itself. We should work to expunge any anti-Semitism in our midst. 

Anti-Semitism has been a scourge for centuries. Combating it isn’t easy. But, let’s do all we can to support the Jewish community and to fight anti-Semitism.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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