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Jackson: 9-11 a tragedy, but also opportunity to unite

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    Vanessa Jackson, left, is executive director of Putnam Christian Outreach. At right is Vicky Morgan, sales coordinator. Both are natives of the metropolitan New York area, and both had concerns about family safety 20 years ago. MATTHEW BROWN/Staff

Perhaps it is fitting that 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the terroristic attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., coming off a year marred by divisiveness.

That’s the view of a former New Jersey resident, Vanessa Jackson, who is now executive director of Putnam Christian Outreach.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Jackson was in Philadelphia conducting a training session on value and diversity at the Ritz-Carlton, where Jackson’s role was director of human resources. Her home at the time was Teaneck, N.J., a suburb of metropolitan New York 14 minutes away.

“I can remember like it was yesterday,” said Jackson, who saw a television account of developments at the World Trade Center. “I thought this was an accident. I was getting ready to play a video. Somebody ran into the tower by accident. But when I saw the second plane, it was not an accident.

“The world changed forever.”

Along with concerns about the impact on the world, Jackson’s first priority was to reach out to family. She tried calling a nephew who worked near the WTC but couldn’t get through. She tried calling a niece with the same result. Jackson said her nephew was going to take a ferry to work, but something kept him from making the trip.

“That was a blessing,” she said about him not being there. “Just a lot of friends, loved ones were traumatically affected.”

Three years later, Jackson moved to Georgia when the Ritz-Carlton transferred her. But she decided to get out of “corporate America,” made Putnam County her home and started her own company, Divine by Design Solutions, LLC. This is a management company, which manages small businesses and the Putnam Christian Outreach.

“My mother, at the time, was living, so I had to go back and forth,” said Jackson about subsequent returns to New Jersey twice a year. “Life was a little different for her. My mom used to go to New York a lot. She liked to buy the big fancy church hats. She could find them in Manhattan. So, I went home just to make sure she was O.K.”

Her mother has since passed on, and her trips are now once a year.

Jackson has seen Ground Zero, and her initial reaction was a “Wow” thinking about what was there but not there anymore.

“It seemed like the country came together,” said Jackson, looking back to the aftermath 20 years ago. “We were at the Ritz, and people were coming by and had to stay because they couldn’t go home. People were praying together.

“The country seemed to come together, unlike these times now where the country seems to be disjointed and split apart. Even though (9-11) was a tragic thing, to me that incident seemed to bring the American people more together than ever.”