9.11.2001: A Community Advocate is Born

Editor’s Note: I contacted Marilyn Rodgers last week to ask if she would consider writing a series for us profiling community advocates, those people in our community who have a positive impact in their neighborhoods and the lives of others. Marilyn is certainly at the top of that list, so it’s only fitting that we would start with her. Read on to see what brought her there. ECB
The Sixth Anniversary of that fateful day in American, and World, History, September 11, 2001 is upon us. I know that much has been made of this day, but I feel the need to reach out and share my experiences, both in Washington, DC on September 11, 2001 and the days following the attacks when we were able to return home to Buffalo. I’ll try to be brief, however, this was the day that my life changed from working for prestige and cash to someone who decided community efforts were more important than a sizable paycheck.
My job, back then, allowed me to use credits offered by the airlines, rental car agencies, hotels, and more for vacation time as I traveled an average of three to four days a week. And, vacation we did! First Class airline tickets, Rental SUVs, Suites instead of rooms – only the very best. It just so happened that we were returning from one of our favorite vacation spots, Charleston, SC, that fateful morning. As we sat in First Class on a direct flight with one layover we noted Jessie Helms was seated across from us. It wasn’t until we landed that we noticed Mr. Helms was not as unflappable as he would have his constituents think.
It was 9:00 am; we were to have landed at Reagan National at 9:15. Instead we banked over the Potomac with a strong shudder of the plane and landed, against NTSB policy, using a reverse thrust technique to quickly slow the plane down. That was a bit unsettling so I asked my traveling companion if she would like to spend our time on the ground at the US Air Club and we disembarked, first entering the Food Court section of the terminal. Then all hell broke loose.
A crowd, estimated at seven to eight deep, surrounded a bar with floor to ceiling glass. We noticed they were watching “Good Morning America” and Charlie Gibson was in the chair. As we moved closer, Charlie’s attention was caught by the monitor as the second plane exploded on the second tower. Charlie and the rest of us were speechless.
When they called for an evacuation of the airport I asked to go onto the plane to retrieve our carry-ons. As the gate clerk guided us down the jetway she said something that surprised us even more, “They’ve had us on high alert for six weeks now”.
We passed the Express Flight windows, and as usual, I glanced to my right as I had done so many other times, to look at the Capitol Dome. Instead I witnessed a wall of black smoke and debris that seemed suspended in air with red licks of flame. We hadn’t heard a sound, no jet engine, no crash, no explosion. We hadn’t felt any percussion, either. So, we wondered exactly what in the hell was going on.
We descended the escalators and went toward the open doors to be met with the acrid small of jet fuel and the horrid scene of a panicking crowd.
As we were moved across the George Washington Memorial Parkway (the third move in 15 minutes) we saw three elderly women not knowing how to mount the Jersey Medians. A pilot and a woman from Tampa assisted us in providing their relief. Our backs literally against the stone wall of the rail line, we could go no further and needed instruction.
The day was extremely hot and sunny, so when a woman fainted nearby we thought it was due to the heat. However, and sadly, we assumed wrong. She had just heard the flight number of one of the planes that flew into the Trade Center Towers. Her husband was on one of them.
For such a large crowd, the atmosphere was hushed. Even those who attempted to get through to anyone on their cell phones were quite still, in awed respect for the moment. The only words we heard were that of a US Air employee informing us that another plane was coming in and if we heard or saw anything to drop to the ground and cover our heads. We heard the plane, and then jet fighters, and the sounds trailed off, possibly on their way to Pennsylvania.
Eventually, we were directed by personnel that hotels were this way and that (pointing both left and right, and we entered a tunnel under the railroad. After rushing past ATF, FBI, and Armed Forces on each street in Crystal City, we eventually formed new friendships with that same woman from Tampa and a gentleman from St. Louis, located a rental vehicle and found accommodations in Iwo Jima, VA. Strangers brought together under a banner of fear.
That night we listened to the helicopters overhead as my companion and I sought a one-way rental car back to Buffalo. The next day, as we drove the Baltimore Turnpike, normally backed up with traffic and filled with noise from overhead planes, we found it to be eerily quiet and empty, and I knew my life had to change. We returned to Buffalo by Wednesday night and, as most did, hung an American flag on our home, which was stolen by Friday morning.
For two weeks it seemed everyone in our country was on their best behavior, allowing folks to pass across a street, picking up papers someone else dropped, smiling and greeting one another. After two weeks, it all went back to the everyday grind.
Why does it take catastrophe to get us to straighten up and treat each other respectfully? Let’s really think about this and change our ways – work with one another – and rebuild our communities – one neighborhood at a time.
It doesn’t matter what scenario played out that fateful day or who was to blame. Be good to one another. Respect one another for the experiences we can share to learn better ways of living. Don’t wait for another catastrophe to speak to a neighbor or mend fences with an old friend you may have had a falling out with. And, if another catastrophe occurs, don’t stop the good behavior after a few short weeks; live each day as if it is your first and last, and make a difference in each other’s lives.

About the author  ⁄ Annie Schentag


I first met Marilyn 2 months ago when I had just moved here with my family from the West Coast.

I had been corresponding via email with a close friend of hers for a year and Marilyn invited us to a cook-out which turned into a cook-IN, due to some Fourth of July rain!

It was an intimate gathering and the warmth and good will in that room will stay with me for years to come.

Marilyn is a true, tireless advocate for Buffalo, NOT just her neighborhood. She has this amazing gift of reaching across lines that may divide lesser beings. She walks the walk like no one I have ever met and I have lived all over this country and have met A LOT of folks.

Marilyn, for those of you who don't know her, also posesses a wicked sense of humor annd a passion for history and music, making her even more interesting and fun to "hang out" with.

She is a gifted storyteller and tour guide-I have learned SO MUCH about Buffalo from her!

I look forward to future profiles about other folks and know that she will showcase them with compassion and humanity.

I am truly blessed and lucky to call this extraordinary woman my friend.


Thumbs up Marilyn- long time fan! ;-)


Cool, nice to see that others will be recognized, very unselfish work


Marilyn speaks the truth.


Marilyn has been pushing this for a long time, how there's a lot of people that have worked very hard without any recognition. Good to see that BR is providing a platform for this. Nice to see that a community leader is willing to share the space reserved for the same advocates day after day.


Whoops- "today is the day"


Marilyn, thanks very much for sharing your story. Your reminder that today the day to make a difference is spot on.

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