By Rev. Michael Waters with photos via UpstateNYer and Wikimedia Commons
Those were the final words directed to me by NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw as I participated in a live televised interview on September 14, 2001. The interview centered on American college students’ reaction to the tragic events of 9/11.
Along with my good friend and student body president, Jodi Warmbrod, I had been selected to represent Southern Methodist University during the interview. I had served as student body vice president the previous year.
Earlier that fateful week, on the evening of Tuesday, September 11th, I had coordinated a candlelight vigil on campus. It had been a very trying week, to say the least. As the weekend approached, I was looking forward to some needed relaxation.
After completing my last class on Friday afternoon, I walked home to my apartment anticipating some downtime before going out that evening with friends. However, almost as immediately as I crossed the threshold to my abode, my cell phone rang.
It was Arlene Manthey, the director of student activities on the campus. I needed to come to public affairs at once! NBC had contacted the university as Tom Brokaw wanted to interview college students from across the nation. A university wide call for recommendations for two students to represent the school reportedly yielded only two names: mine and Jodi’s. It was imperative that I come right away.
Hours later, I found myself in the NBC Dallas studio staring directly into a camera lens, an ear piece sitting uncomfortably in my right ear with Tom Brokaw’s foreign yet familiar voice speaking to me.
After several questions to our student panel, which was representative of several other schools, including Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Mr. Brokaw honed in on one of my responses and immediately threw another question back to me.
In his questioning to our panel, Mr. Brokaw had referred to my generation as the MTV generation. It seemed to indirectly suggest that we were out of touch with reality.
He openly questioned whether or not our generation would even be able to find Afghanistan on the map! I was not amused. I was a political science and religious studies double major, who graduated a semester short of an additional major in history. I was offended by his insinuation.
Confidently (maybe even defiantly) I assured him that I was well aware of current events. Mr. Brokaw then asked me to expound upon my thoughts concerning the meaning of the week’s events.
As I readied myself to respond, I was interrupted by another student. The student had chosen to speak although Mr. Brokaw had directly addressed me with his question.
The interruption turned out to be a divine intervention for it allowed me to gather my thoughts and to more fully consider the question posed. After the other student concluded his statements, without hesitation, Mr. Brokaw redirected and said, “And Michael, what do you think about all of this?”
I responded, “Although this is indeed a horrific event, our generation can restore hope. I believe we are a mighty generation…a generation that’s quite aware that we are inheriting a world with many troubles…Now we have the opportunity to make things right, and I value that opportunity, and I hope to play a very important role in the future.”
Ten years later, I continue to stand behind my response. I am thoroughly convinced that my generation, the hip hop generation, the MTV generation, Generation X (take your pick), is rightly positioned to make a significant difference within our world.
I believe this because we, unlike any other generation in recent memory, have had to overcome numerous internal obstacles to our physical, emotional, intellectually, and spiritual well-being just to make it to this point in life. We are a generation proven, tested, and committed to change.
The seeds of broken homes, we shall endeavor to keep our families together. Largely ostracized by a church who condemned us and our culture yet failed to fulfill its core mission to “the least of these”, we are committed to a more authentic spirituality, one that endeavors to “keep it real” by placing a greater premium on what is done than what is simply spoken.
Will change happen overnight or without struggle? Absolutely not! But having matured as young adults in the age of 9-11, and having already experienced and survived the dissolution of the family, the decline of the church, and the disintegration of community, if there is anything that we know how to do, it is to endure despite all odds against us.
We are a mighty generation! And as our hope manifests in days to come, the world will see that what did not kill us made us stronger.
Rev. Michael W. Waters is the founder and Senior Pastor of Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church in Dallas, Texas and was named among America’s top young leaders by Ebony Magazine. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.