As New York City continues to grapple with a global pandemic and adjust to a “new normal” marked by face masks, social distancing, and lines outside local supermarkets, some wonder how the city will recover. Critics cite the apparent mass exodus of city dwellers looking for safe haven in the suburbs as evidence that the New York once admired for its grit and resilience is a distant memory. Lifelong New Yorkers like Alex Zablocki know otherwise.
On September 11, 2001, as a young college student trying to make his way back to his native Staten Island, Zablocki witnessed the collapse of one of the Twin Towers. He was pushed further from the World Trade Center as the dust and debris settled over lower Manhattan and found himself near Foley Square. A stranger approached and handed him a flyer for the New York Rescue Mission where there was free access to a bathroom and telephone. As scores of people wandered the city trying to get home, bewildered by the events unfolding before them, the shelter was doing what it could to respond to those in need of basic assistance. This act of service and kindness remained with Zablocki years after the attacks.
“My experience on September 11, 2001 gave me a new perspective on life,” Zablocki said. “And it showed me that there are so many people in this city willing to risk everything and do everything for someone else because it is who we are. It’s in our DNA.”
Zablocki witnessed the same spirit of comradery and service countless times over the years, especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and now during the COVID-19 crisis.
Born and raised on Staten Island, Zablocki said, “In the neighborhood where I grew up, my town is filled with heroes, from teachers to service workers, doctors and nurses, firefighters and police officers. The same people that rushed to towers on the morning of September 11, 2001 to save others, to those that spent months during the recovery effort at Ground Zero. These same people rushed to our shorelines during Superstorm Sandy to help families at their greatest time of need. And during COVID-19, they have educated our kids, provided us essential services, and kept us healthy and safe. That's the New York I know. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things for others during our greatest time of need.”
Zablocki credits his career in local government and working with communities in need to his experience on 9/11. Over the course of his career, he has worked to provide homeless services throughout the city and help communities continue to rebuild following Superstorm Sandy.
Zablocki also serves on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Visionary Network Leadership Council. The Visionary Network brings together individuals between the ages of 21 and 45 through acts of advocacy, commemoration, and engagement to ensure that their generation and future generations remember 9/11 and its aftermath.
Summing up his thoughts on the future of New York in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum's Stories of Hope series, Zablocki says confidently, “New York is tough, but New York is kind. And we are strong. Our greatest days are still ahead of us.”
By 9/11 Memorial Staff