Young Americans Reflect On 9/11

The terrorist attacks have shaped many young Americans in personal and professional ways. On 9/11, Jukay Hsu was a high school senior in lower Manhattan, then he volunteered with the Red Cross after the attacks. Khalid Latif was a New York University sophomore, then became a chaplain for the NYPD and executive director of NYU's Islamic Center. Both speak with guest host Jacki Lyden.

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

We want to spend some time now talking about the impact that day had on young adults. For many, it was defining event that shaped their professions, educations, personal life for an entire generation. We're joined now by two people who were students on September 11th, 2001, in New York City.

Jukay Hsu was a senior at Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan. He volunteered with the Red Cross that day and in the weeks thereafter. Since then, he's joined the Army and served in Iraq. He recently moved back to New York and founded Coalition for Queens, an organization aimed at revitalizing that borough. And Khalid Latif was a sophomore at New York University. He became the youngest chaplain for the New York Police Department in April of 2007, and he's also executive director of NYU's Islamic center.

Thank you both very much for joining us. Welcome to the program.

KHALID LATIFCHAPLAIN: Thanks for having us.

JUKAY HSUFOUNDER: Thank you for having us.

LYDEN: Jukay, I'd like to start with you, because Stuyvesant High School is only four blocks away from Ground Zero. Take us back, please, if you would, to that day, your most vivid memory, and let us be with you for a bit.

HSUFOUNDER: I was in the classroom and I heard a commotion and everyone started looking out their windows. We had TVs in every classroom as well, so immediately, soon turned on the TV to see what was going on, and shortly thereafter I remember evacuating, going down to the first floor. Between the first and second floor of our school there's a big staircase with windowpanes facing south towards the World Trade Center. Just as we were leaving, as I was leaving, they're walking down the stairs, I think the first tower collapsed. And you couldn't see it but you saw this thick kind of gray smoke kind of out of a movie just pulling like ominously towards the window and eventually covered up the entire windowpane and all the sunlight, and we walked out the north doors going up the West Side Highway.

LYDEN: Khalid, tell us about your memory of 9/11. Were you in class at NYU?

LATIFCHAPLAIN: Yeah. You know, the day of, I was on my way to my morning Arabic class. And when I went into the classroom there was a lot of commotion. People were talking to each other and the professor wasn't teaching, and a few minutes into it, a security guard walked in and asked us to evacuate because a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

When we emptied out of the building, we went into Washington Square Park, which is situated in kind of the middle of our campus. Now there's probably about 10 or 12 thousand people who were standing in it. And while everyone was talking and trying to figure out what was going on, the second plane went into the tower.

LYDEN: Did you see the plane?

LATIFCHAPLAIN: Yeah.

LYDEN: After that, how did you spend the remainder of the day?

LATIFCHAPLAIN: You know, my first concern was just to make sure that people who I knew who were Muslim were kind of in a place where they weren't going home on their own. I saw amongst a lot of my friends and individuals who were Muslims that I looked up to many years, just a very substantiated fear of how people might engage them. And so you saw a lot of young men kind of trim their beards. If they wore skull caps they removed them. They were trying to blend in a little bit more. And to me it was a little bit frustrating because I felt as if there was many people who had questions that rightfully so needed to be answered and we weren't stepping up to answer them in the best ways possible.

LYDEN: So you spent, you have spent time since, obviously, addressing that.

LATIFCHAPLAIN: I mean in my current work I serve as the university chaplain for NYU as well as the chaplain for the New York City Police Department. And I think both roles create an opportunity for me to really engage society at a level where I'm telling people what we are. I think a lot of Muslims these days find themselves in a place where we're consistently reacting to stereotypes and accusations and we're saying we are not something, you know, we are not violent, we are not terrorists, we are not oppressive to our women. But in that line of rhetoric we're never defining(ph) what we actually are.

LYDEN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. We're speaking with Khalid Latif and Jukay Hsu. Both were students in New York City on September the 11th, 2001, and we're talking about how that day shaped their lives personally and professionally.

Jukay, as you reflect, how do you think your - you had joined the National Guard, you volunteered with the Red Cross. How do you think those days relate to your notion of service?

HSUFOUNDER: Service is something I believe in. And personally for me, I decided to, you know, stay in the city for college. I felt very close to the city. I wanted to continue doing many things with the Red Cross and other community organizations I was involved with. So I attended Columbia my first year, but then later I realized that that wasn't necessarily the best fit for me, so I transferred to Harvard and then partially motivated by my desire to join the military, to participate in Army ROTC there.

LYDEN: Khalid, you're now an imam at NYU and a chaplain and you've spent your career helping people better understand Islam, especially students and police officers in New York. How will you two mark this 10th anniversary? Khalid, you first.

LATIFCHAPLAIN: I plan the day of September 11th to be present at the city's memorial service at Ground Zero in my capacity as an NYPD chaplain. And as the day proceeds, you know, there's some different interfaith services that I'll be participating in. And in the evening, the chaplains from New York University are going to be hosting a candlelight vigil in collaboration of the day for the students of NYU.

LYDEN: And what about you, Jukay? What will you be doing?

HSUFOUNDER: Right now I've gotten in touch with some other classmates from Stuyvesant, from the class of 2002 to 2005, and we're trying to organize some sort of commemorative event on that day as well for all the students. We're reaching out to the school administration and to see what sort of event we can organize, and hopefully we'll just spend a day commemorating(ph) with the friends that we spent it on September 11, 2001.

LYDEN: Jukay Hsu is the founder for Coalition for Queens. On September 11th, 2001, he was a student at Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan. And Khalid Latif is chaplain of NYU's Islamic Center and also a chaplain for the NYPD. On September 11th, 2001, he was a sophomore at New York University. Both are with us from our New York studios, and again thank you.

HSUFOUNDER: Thanks so much.

LATIFCHAPLAIN: Thank you.

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