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The Front Row To History: The 9/11 Classroom. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired September 05, 2021 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Sixteen kids.
MARIAH WILLIAMS-ADAMS, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: My mom, she took a little bit of extra time getting me prepared for the day.
SANDRA "KAY" DANIELS, FORMER TEACHER, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: The children were facing President Bush and myself.
BLACKWELL: School kids with a front row to history.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning.
CHANTAL GUERRERO-JONES, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: When he walked in our room, I was like, oh, my gosh, that's him.
LA'DAMIAN SMITH, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: This is actually the President.
TYLER RADKEY, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: I could touch him if I wanted to reach out.
BLACKWELL: Until the unimaginable happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A plane has crashed into one of the towers there where --
BLACKWELL: Innocence lost.
BUSH: Join me in a moment of silence.
JANUARY TOWELS, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: They just kept saying, a terrorist attack, a terrorist attack.
BLACKWELL: Twenty years later. Do you think that that day affected your life who you are today?
LAZARO DUBROCQ, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: I want to leave Sarasota after high school.
LENARD RIVERS, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: Not many people would have thought I would have become a cop.
RADKEY: I've had my stumbles, you know, I've been to prison twice. DINASTY BROWN, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: It's always going to be a part of our lives.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was only 16 of us with him. We get to be the people that tell the story.
BLACKWELL: Tonight their stories in a CNN special report. Front Row to History: The 9/11 Classroom.
Hello, I'm Victor Blackwell. Most of us remember where we were on September 11th 2001. I was in college. And I remember clearly walking into class and seeing my professor fixated on a T.V. His hand was over his mouth. And I looked at the T.V. and I saw smoke billowing from a skyscraper. At that moment, that was all I knew.
I also remember seeing the President surrounded by young school kids that morning. We later learn that President George W. Bush got word of the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center as he was on his way to visit a classroom in Sarasota, Florida. He was there to honor a second grade class for their academic achievements. The President of the United States, and they were star struck. Then Andy Card walked in.
And the image of the then White House Chief of Staff whispering to the President that a second plane it hit the World Trade Center as those children watched is still haunting 20 years later, those students are now 27 years old. And I wondered whatever happened to those kids and their teacher? Do they remember that day? How do they feel two decades later about their connection to one of the most terrifying and consequential events in American history?
DANIELS: The day I discovered that the White House was coming to Emma E. Booker, I was sworn to secrecy. So imagine I had them for three months, as much as I told.
DUBROCQ: The earliest memory I have that is we're in front of a blackboard. We're being told that our reading comprehension grade one from I think was from a D, and then we bumped it up to a B or maybe an A. As a result of that, the President of the United States will be coming out to visit us we'd be congratulating us.
BUSH: What we find is a good curriculum based upon the science of reading.
GORDON JOHNDROE, FORMER WH ASSISTANT PRESS SECRETARY: President Bush was pushing his No Child Left Behind Education Reform Bill. This was going to be a stop to meet with the students and then have a roundtable discussion with, you know, educators.
DANIELS: When I was told that I was the host teacher like this is getting real. My 16 little ones are going to be in the presence of the President. How cool is that? How special is that? It was quite a big thing, quite a big thing.
This is the Emma E. Booker School across the track, OK, in New Town. We were not the popular school in the district. They did so well that President Bush had to come here to see them. We didn't have to go to him. He came to us.
BLACKWELL: Why do you think you did so well?
WILLIAMS-ADAMS: I think it's mainly because they want it better for us students at the time. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into us.
RADKEY: What I remember the most is just the love that was in that classroom with my classmates, the teacher, just the whole school.
BLACKWELL: When did you arrive?
JOHNDROE: We arrived the night before.
BLACKWELL: Do you know why you came in the night before?
ELLEN ECKERT, FORMER WH STENOGRAPHER: I think he might have been having dinner with his brother, maybe.
TOWELS: I found out that night.
BLACKWELL: And what did you think once you heard it?
TOWELS: I was like, wait, I was going to be in a place to read to the President. And I didn't know what they mean.
RADKEY: I was definitely excited. I was dancing around in the living room, always competitive, so I always felt like the President is coming. I could show off my skills a little bit. I'm a fast reader.
BLACKWELL: How is the preparation for a teacher, the President is coming to your classroom.
DANIELS: It was easy because we didn't change anything we normally do. Emma E. Booker is one of the best kept secrets in Sarasota County. Because what you see is what we do every day.
BLACKWELL: What time does the day start on September 11th you?
JOHNDROE: Around 6:00 a.m. I remember loading up the press pool in a smaller motorcade and being, you know, casual. It was pretty warm that day.
BUSH: Come on.
JOHNDROE: And the President went for a jog at a local golf course.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're talking about tax cuts.
BUSH: I'd rather not. I haven't tried that education though.
BROWN: I got ready at my grandmother's house that morning. She ironed my clothes, breakfast, everything.
RIVERS: My parents made sure I got to haircut, clean uniform. JOHNDROE: I was waiting with the press pool out on the golf course while the President was running. I got stung by a bee. But I told the doctors that kind of hurts. And he goes, OK, don't worry about it. I've got it in the medical unit onboard Air Force One. And I have to say, I never thought about it again.
SMITH: I was running late at the time. And the moment I got to Mrs. Daniels class, there was a lot more people than it normally is in there.
DUBROCQ: We have to show up on time, if didn't, the Secret Service won't allow us in. We actually missed like one of our classmates who weren't able to make it in time.
JOHNDROE: And then we loaded back up and got back to the hotel. And that was a quick change. And it was time to get the press pool back into the vans.
TOWELS: When we got to school, it was like Secret Service everywhere. And I'm like, why are these people here?
GUERRERO-JONES: They're like, we need to check your bags. When you're seven, it's like OK, what is happening? My mom tells her that I told her the men and black are at my school.
SMITH: There were people on horses. There were in cars. I think is there are actually people in trees.
DANIELS: They were very discreet about some things like to this day don't even know happened in my classroom. I found out afterwards. Security was in the rafters. There was security in the restroom. My desk were searched, my home, my family, everything.
JOHNDROE: The motorcade as we left the hotel was a very casual loading up. I was handing newspaper clips out, press for grabbing, laptops and cameras and things. It was a very normal start to a day with the President.
BLACKWELL: Was the President looking forward to this?
JOHNDROE: Yes, absolutely. He was in a great mood. He thought we'd have a good event and then head home.
DANIELS: I'm the first one in my classroom. I'd made sure all the chairs was straight, making sure he had his seat ready, the books are ready.
GUERRERO-JONES: I remember it that they told us we weren't allowed to turn around because there was all these cameras. I was very hyper. I did not like to sit still.
DANIELS: Everybody's vying for space to get the best angle, the best shot.
JOHNDROE: I think we set out around 8:00 a.m. or something like that for the school. DANIELS: We were in here talking and, you know, I'm trying to keep them entertained and we're having a good time. A normal day with the exception of, why are all these people on campus, who are these people?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This just in you were looking at, obviously a very disturbing live shot there.
JOHNDROE: We were getting very close to the elementary school and everyone's pager started, you know, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you step outside.
BUSH: I'll talk about it later.
BLACKWELL: Take me back to the beginning. Give me the story of Sarasota.
FREDD ATKINS, HISTORIAN: 1921, Sarasota succeeded from Manatee County. It went with 10, 12,000 people in this end of the county at that time. This is Myrtle Street. This is a northern boundary of the colored section.
BLACKWELL: The colored section.
ATKINS: Yes. That's -- this is what we were. We were going to be servants. We was going to be the service employees. And that's all we got it now. We have very little manufacturing very little technical stuff. There was going to be the playground for the wealthy. And they was going to cater to banks and sons saying and gone (ph). This is the story of our community.
BLACKWELL: How has Sarasota changed?
ATKINS: Not much.
ATKINS: Not much. Because we are still a service based community, we still are rather impoverished.
BLACKWELL: When you found out the President was here for the reading --
ATKINS: Reading class, yes.
BLACKWELL: -- the reading class, what did you think about the school, about the accomplishment and his acknowledgement?
ATKINS: It was a proud moment for me. We have outstanding teachers. DANIELS: Goodbye my love. I'll see you.
ATKINS: Mrs. Daniels is the reason why the President came because of her program and her success.
BLACKWELL: What's it feel like to be back in this room, although it's different, what's it feel like?
DANIELS: I started here in 1993. This is my starting school. This is my home. Read, read, read, read, read, read. The teachers were here day and night reading teaching, teaching reading, but they did the hard work. And they made the gains and that's why President Bush was here to congratulate them.
BLACKWELL: The principal of this school asked you to greet the President.
EDWINA OLIVER, FORMER TEACHER, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEM. SCHOOL: I knew I didn't have to do anything but to say hello, shake a few hands. So I was pretty much calm at that point in time.
BLACKWELL: When did things change that morning on the way in?
JOHNDROE: We were getting very close to the elementary school and everyone's pager started, you know, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing. We get these notes from the White House situation room that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.
DANIELS: The motorcade probably arrived around 8:35, 8:40ish.
BLACKWELL: The motorcade turned into Emma E. Booker. What happened once the car stopped, and the President stepped up?
JOHNDROE: I've never seen people jump out of a motorcade all up and down the line from all the cars so quickly. And it was the President's senior aides running to tell the president what had happened.
OLIVER: When he first arrived, we didn't immediately greet him at that point in time. They said he needs to take this call.
JOHNDROE: The President comes into the hold room. Everyone was trying to gather information, pages from the White House Situation Room were coming in with additional information.
BUSH: Good morning.
BLACKWELL: Did you know by the time that he came in what had happened in New York?
OLIVER: No, we did not. The only thing that we knew was that it was something important. And something was happening.
BLACKWELL: What was your impression?
OLIVER: He was very relaxed, very reserved, but very present.
BUSH: It's great to meet everybody.
BLACKWELL: What did you expect a president to look like or be?
DUBROCQ: I was kind of weird. I had this kind of kingly, regal, like expectation. I mean, I'm seven years old, so I still have a bit of imagination. I'm thinking a man with crown walking in. But no, it was nice to see that's the man, that's a leader of our country, a simple man at the end of the day.
BROWN: I just think of him being very nice, welcoming, it wasn't nerve wracking, or you didn't see intimidating or anything. Honestly, what I expected.
WILLIAMS-ADAMS: I remember us standing up and reading us maybe shook a few hands.
GUERRERO-JONES: Shook Lazaro's hand.
DANIELS: Shook Lazaro's hand.
DUBROCQ: And then he started talking I think it was either to Dynasty, Natalia, and Mariah about his dogs and daughters.
BLACKWELL: Chantal, the image of you with your hand over your heart. Do you remember why your hand was over your heart?
GUERRERO-JONES: I remember when he walked in being star struck because I was like, oh my gosh, that's him like and like kind of like being a little flustered. I've got this like, cheesy grin on my face. And my hand is like over my heart, you know, when you do the Pledge of Allegiance. He's important like.
DANIELS: I had given them lessons on who the President was, what the President does, and why he's coming to meet you. Because I want it to be as authentic and as real as they are. They were beautiful kids at that. The next thing that happened is they sat down and we were right into the lesson.
BLACKWELL: What was the lesson that day?
DANIELS: Everybody together, "The Pet Goat."
BLACKWELL: When we return.
DANIELS: All I can see was this man coming towards the President, and I'm thinking, who is this? Why is this happening?
JOHNDROE: As the motorcade arrives and the President comes into this room, the hold room, the pool goes separately, the press pool and goes straight to the classroom to set up in the back of the classroom. So the pool of the print reporters and the television reporters are in the back. The kids are in their chairs or on the floor in front. And then the teacher and the seats of the President are set up in the front.
DANIELS: This is my classroom.
BLACKWELL: And he came through this door?
DANIELS: This exact door.
DANIELS: This is the door. I was sitting up here, book easel (ph), President Bush's chair.
BUSH: Good morning.
BLACKWELL: Was there a greeting that you'd rehearsed with the class when the President walked in?
DANIELS: No. There was no greeting. I tried to keep it as natural as possible. Mrs. Regale (ph) our former principal. He's comes to the classroom all the time to observe. But when they saw him come in with her, they were a little, is this really the President?
BUSH: Good morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have with me the most wonderful guest.
DANIELS: They were very spontaneous. They knew how to behave.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you please stand to recognize the President of the United States.
BUSH: Good morning. Hi.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning Mr. President.
BUSH: How are you?
TOWELS: When the President walked in the classroom, like we all kind of froze a little bit. And I'm like, oh, my goodness, that's George Bush like this, the President.
BLACKWELL: Describe from your perspective, his mood, his energy as he crosses into meet the children.
JOHNDROE: Probably a little bit more serious than he normally would going into a classroom full of young kids.
BUSH: It's great to meet everybody.
JOHNDROE: But what he tried to do was convey an air of calm and excitement to be with the children, but he definitely looked like someone with more on his mind.
BLACKWELL: This is the book that the President read in Mrs. Daniels room on 9/11. What was the lesson that day?
DANIELS: Everybody together, "The Pet Goat."
TOWELS: She had is get our books from under our seats and to open it up to the right page and then of course Mrs. Daniels will always start up by saying, get ready.
DANIELS: Get ready.
STUDENTS: "The Pet Goat."
DANIELS: Yes, "The Pet Goat."
TOWELS: And then she was have her state her reading state, and then we will start, she told us to start reading.
DANIELS: Get ready.
STUDENTS: -- a pet goat.
DANIELS: That was a pencil. Go on.
STUDENTS: She like to --
DANIELS: Just a little pencil to keep the beat.
GUERRERO-JONES: I don't remember like being anxious about reading.
STUDENTS: One day her dad said.
GUERRERO-JONES: It was like walking. We just like knew what to do. And we were like, wanted to show it off.
BROWN: A lot of people say, you know, you guys look so good and so well mannered. But that was everyday like Mrs. Daniels drove a tight ship so. We -- it wasn't for the President, that was every day.
DANIELS: What's behind the words said?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Comma.
DANIELS: And what does that comma mean?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Slow down.
DANIELS: And let's read that sentence again. Get ready.
BROWN: We were good at it. So it wasn't nothing to be nervous about.
BLACKWELL: That was not a performance.
DANIELS: No. They did the work. And they were in front of the President and they were holding their own. It was authentic. And what you saw were my babies doing what we did every single day. And I felt like a proud Mama.
BLACKWELL: What was your impression of Mrs. Daniels class?
ECKERT: They were loving the talk by the President. If you're around them enough, you would know by the way he smiled, how much fun he was having with the kids and reading to them. So it was going really well until it wasn't.
DANIELS: And all I could see was this image of a man coming towards the President. And I'm thinking who is this? Why is this is happening? This should not be happening.
BLACKWELL: At some point, then White House Chief of Staff Andy Card walks up to the President.
ECKERT: He came from the President's right into his, right here, isn't it? I was standing back with the press. And we were whispering to each other, wait, this is odd. This is unusual. What do you think this is?
DANIELS: When I saw him whisper to the President, I knew something devastating had happened.
RADKEY: I thought the way his facial expression turned in his face got red, I thought he had to use the bathroom. I don't know what's going on.
DUBROCQ: The President's face kind of torn a little bit.
DANIELS: I was waiting for security to come and take care of the matter but no security came.
TOWELS: He kind of regain his composure and continued on with, you know, the lesson, you know, with us reading.
DANIELS: He was supposed to pick up the book immediately and participate with the reading lesson but he didn't. I could feel President Bush leave the room, mentally, spiritually.
JOHNDROE: You could see he was staring off into the distance in some ways, but then trying to come back to, wait, I've got a task at hand that needs to be finished which is I can't frighten these kids. I can't send a signal to the world. When the press is filming, the T.V.s are rolling, sound is going. He's thinking we need to finish this off. And then I need to calmly get back into this hold room and get more information.
DANIELS: After we finished the lesson.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you step outside.
BUSH: We'll talk about later on.
DANIELS: He came back out and he shook my hand and he said, I have to leave to go address the nation.
BLACKWELL: Coming up. BROWN: I thought it was like us. I thought we did something wrong.
DANIELS: He was gone like whoosh, really quickly.
BUSH: I unfortunately, will be going back to Washington after my remarks.
DANIELS: And I couldn't believe that the day started so joyously.
BUSH: Great to meet everybody.
DANIELS: And then it ended so tragically.
BLACKWELL: Did you find out before the President did that the country was under attack?
GORDON JOHNDROE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ASSISTANT PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. If I recall I did because the Secret Service wanted the President to leave pretty immediately, like we've got to get moving. Because we don't know what's happening, and the President of United States is obviously a target.
ELLEN ECKERT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE STENOGRAPHER: I don't think the pool knew. You were back in and out of this room so you had different knowledge. The other thing going through my mind was what has happened here like what has happened here.
JOHNDROE: So Andy Card has come in and he's told the President. The President leaves a few minutes later to come back into this room. They're gathering information. The President's back on the phone with communicators back in the White House.
BLACKWELL: Do you remember what you're thinking? Now your teacher has been pulled into another room. The President is leaving early.
JANUARY TOWLES, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: We definitely felt like something was wrong. We're just all trying to figure out what it was that was wrong.
CHANTAL GUERRERO-JONES, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: I do remember like being confused because we knew that he was supposed to be with us for the whole day. And then like Ms. Daniels left, something is not right.
SANDRA DANIELS, FORMER TEACHER, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: I needed a moment to absorb what I had been told and what I saw happening, what I found out what's happened.
BLACKWELL: Two planes into the World Trade Center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: US officials are saying this is an act of terrorism.
JOHNDROE: And then short remarks are quickly drafted here, for him to deliver.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: This is a difficult moment for America. I, unfortunately, will be going back to Washington after my remarks.
JOHNDROE: You could cut the tension with a knife.
BUSH: Today we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country. May God bless the victims, their families in America. Thank you very much.
BLACKWELL: What did you do in that moment?
DANIELS: I cried. I prayed, and I ask why. Why and how, I really needed a moment.
LENARD RIVERS, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: We never really see her cry. And it's like, something definitely impacted her more than what we know what was going on. It was deeper than what we seeing.
LAZARO DUBROCQ, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: We knew Ms. Daniels as loving, caring. It's a really different take from our teachers kind of jarring. I mean, we've never seen her like this.
BLACKWELL: How long was the moment?
DANIELS: It could have been two minutes, it could have been three minutes, but I knew I had to get back to my kids. So I didn't want them to think that they had done something wrong, so I had to let them know it was not their fault.
GUERRERO-JONES: Something in the way that you presented it to us, like allowed me to understand that like the human side of it that like, I am not the most important person right now. Like he's got something he has to do. People are hurting, he has to leave. And that's OK, and it's not our fault.
DINASTY BROWN, STUDENT, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: And I think after that, that's when you know, they cut on the TV for us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To those Americans who are looking at these horrific pictures.
BROWN: And then it all came together like I grasped how serious it was.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think myself or maybe other students thought it was like a movie or something.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It didn't look real.
BLACKWELL: The TV was here, you took them to a different room?
DANIELS: The TV, the monitor that President Bush had was in his office next door, their memory of it might fluctuate a little. After I came out of the room, I told them what happened. The pictures and the images that they saw, they might have seen them when the door was open but the TV never came in here.
I was very careful about how much I expose them to. And what I said to them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That the first that I learned what the terrorists do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
TOWLES: We didn't know where the World Trade Centers were. They just kept saying a terrorist attack, a terrorist attack.
BLACKWELL: Who taught you the word terrorist? You talked --
DANIELS: I had to. There was a vocabulary word that I incorporated into our vocabulary. We're talking about days later, not the same day. I had to teach them evil can happen anywhere. It can happen in America, it can happen in other parts of the world.
DUBROCQ: Seriously, it was my whole world, right? And I grew up in a family of immigrants, told terrorists are attacking this country. And it's a lot for me grasp to the point that I didn't really even understand it.
BLACKWELL: You've now explained to the students what has happened in general terms, what next happens in this classroom?
DANIELS: Some parents wanted to come pick their kids up, my baby stayed with me. I went outside the classroom, and I took a look at the parking lot, and it was like a ghost town.
JOHNDROE: I distinctly remember telling the press pool, we're going to have to run to the motorcade. I said, I'm not kidding. I know. I often say that we have to move quickly. I'm not kidding. We've got to run to get in the cars with him.
ECKERT: We ran. We actually never seen a more obedient press pool. We ran.
DELDRIA TURNER, MOTHER OF JANUARY TOWLES: I'm seeing what's going on in New York but I had no idea what was going on at the schools. I'm like, OK, what's going on with my baby, what's going on with my baby.
MARIA DUBROCQ, MOTHER OF LAZARO DUBROCQ: It truly feels like in a movie that you part of, and then your son is there, you know, it's safe but you do not 100%.
BLACKWELL: When your parents came to pick you up, who remembers that first interaction with their mom or dad?
BROWN: And he was just like checking on me, are you OK? So I don't think they knew what to say to us.
AISHA HORNE MILLER, MARIAH WILLIAMS-ADAMS: I did not know how to question her when I still was kind of like in shock myself.
MARIAH WILLIAMS-ADAMS, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: I didn't realize how important it
was until people are reaching out to me like, hey, you were in the class of 911. How was that? How do you feel?
BLACKWELL: Up next. How's it feel to be connected to the day?
GUERRERO-JONES: This is something that I'd like kind of like been trying to like work through specifically.
DANILES: For a long time, I would not tell anybody that I was the host teacher for President Bush on 911. I wanted to keep that in because I felt guilty.
RIVERS: I think the guilt comes from something bigger than us reading, that happened that day.
DUBROCQ: It's almost like a duty. It's hard to really feel any sense of pride being in that day because of what happened.
BLACKWELL: Does anyone else feel that guilt?
BROWN: Yes, definitely. Now I understand that people want to know how we feel too. Like they want to know our story and how we feel because we were there, and it did affect us.
DANIELS: You know, I started thinking about this, what did they see on September the 11th that they carried subconsciously that will lead them to the path that they are now in?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible).
GUERRERO-JONES: I love Sarasota.
DANIELS: Since I was a little princess, always cute and dainty.
GUERRERO-JONES: That's where we got married because it's so important to me.
My parents gave up a lot for me to like be able to go to school. And so like I think that's like a different way that you feel, oh, I'm a first generation American and my parents probably did more than they'll ever tell me to like be able to put me through that experience.
BLACKWELL: What does it feel like to be connected to that day/
WILLIAMS-ADAMS: So I didn't realize the seriousness of it until I got older.
DANIELS: Mariah, quiet, go-getter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.
WILLIAMS-ADAMS: Growing up, my dream was to be in the WNBA. I have my bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently working at the Boys and Girls Club, I work as a youth development professional.
WILLIAMS-ADAMS: I have a six year old. His name is Jayden. My-two year-old, Roman. He's super, super bright. And I just enjoy working with kids every day, making them smile, inspiring them to be better people.
DANIELS: Majority of my students stayed on the right path and they did, they follow their dream. They accomplished things in life that they wanted to.
RIVERS: I remember as a kid I wanted to be a police officer.
DANIELS: Lenard, studious, very, very concerned about others.
RIVERS: I'm really into public safety. I joined the military and then I became a police officer. The interaction with different people, business owners, the families, not everybody's life is the same.
911 made me lean towards doing public safety work. It's a connection, I feel a part of is like, hey, I see something that's related to 911. I was like, yes, I was related to that too.
TYLER RADKEY, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: The 911 connection, I definitely brag about it a lot. Most people react like, dang, man, bring you a piece of history man like you. You're in history books. I was fed with a silver spoon my whole life. Like anything I wanted, like my mom and dad will get it for me.
DANIELS: Tyler, there was some hiccups that he had to overcome.
RADKEY: I would have my stumbles. You know, I've been to prison twice. But you know, this stuff that I did in the past, you know, I am proud of it. I made my own decision. I made my bed, I laid I'm just pushing for it.
DUBROCQ: When you open a textbook and you see the picture of the class, we were there, right? We were there as a little seven year olds, were watching that from a different perspective. It's hard to say how that didn't affect us. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
DANIELS: Lazaro, sweetheart, loving, determined, just a man in a little boy's body.
DUBROCQ: My parents are awesome. I call them every single day, just to say hi, you know, good morning to them, and also because we run business together.
JAVIER DUBROCQ, FATHER OF LAZARO DUBROCQ: He said the dream is a dream. And let me tell you why, because we couldn't have the best partner. I do the buildings, you do the decorations. Because this is a family business and we create it with so much effort. And then when you see the result, it motivates you so much to keep going on.
DUBROCQ: It's been 20 years since that day, when you're seven years old. You're being asked what do you want to be when you grow up? And it's always something that we ask ourselves, you know, how we lived up to what we want it to be?
LA'DAMIAN SMITH, STUDENT, EMMA E. BOOKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: Are y'all seatbelts on?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Yes.
DANIELS: La'Damian is quite the gentleman and very protective, very protective.
SMITH: I didn't honestly think about joining the military until my ninth or 10th grade of high school. I'm actually more behind the scenes computing data. My career to become an executive chef didn't go out as planned because once me and my wife graduated, we actually found out the day of graduation that she was pregnant with our son, Jaden.
SMITH: I'm too old for this.
He told us that he had learned about 911 and when President went to the school that day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many do you think died that day? Like lost their life.
JADEN SMITH, SON OF LA'DAMIAN SMITH: A lot of people.
SMITH: The 20 year anniversary is this year. It's a long time.
J. SMITH: (Inaudible).
TOWLES: I think I wanted to be a teacher or a lawyer, but I was a social butterfly because I was always talking and disrupting the class.
DANIELS: January, my baby. Sweet, very aware of other's feelings. I'm very, very proud of her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She gave me Jalen.
TOWLES: I thought you are mad after you find out I was pregnant.
My mom was like my annoying best friend but I love her to pieces.
I currently work at Metro Regional Youth Detention Center. People that think that youth that are incarcerated, that there's no hope for them. I will tell them that they're wrong. I see so much potential.
BLACKWELL: Do you all feel a kinship to one another?
TOWLES: Oh, when we see each other, it's just like no time has passed like because I don't think I've seen Dinasty since like high school.
DANIELS: Dinasty, my entrepreneur, serious, determined, strong
BROWN: I always wanted my own business. I enjoyed entrepreneurship, being my own boss, making my own schedule and also like to help other people. And then also TikTok grows people like tremendously. I help young women inspiring entrepreneurs, start a business, and then learn how to grow that business using social media online. If I can just motivate one young girl, hope her believe in herself, I'm happy.
WILLIAMS-ADAMS: Personally, I'm just proud of everyone to see how much they've accomplished in life and the goals that they've reached.
BROWN: We had a great teacher. It wasn't just instruction, but it was genuine love.
RADKEY: I call her mom. She was my favorite teacher because of what she did outside of the classroom. She calls me probably twice a week just to check on me, to see how I'm doing. What teacher does that 20 years later?
DANIELS: All right, baby. I think I'm just about ready.
Teaching is a passion. I think teaching is also a calling. And I've been doing it now almost 30 years.
Good morning, my butterflies. Morning, morning.
LASHAWN FROST, PRINCIPAL, BOOKER MIDDLE SCHOOL: Ms. Daniels has an attitude of overcoming whatever it takes to ensure that we are going to be OK.
DANIELS: I can do anything if I try.
I teach my kids to sing. Singing is a part of me.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in-unison): I can do anything if I try.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is always singing. DANIELS: That's natural. That's something I do all the time.
We were in turmoil at that time. We needed to know that a resolution would come.
BLACKWELL: When we come back.
DANIELS: To see the memorial in New York now 20 years later, it will bring closure.
BLACKWELL: I think that day affected your life, the choices you've made, the careers you've chosen, what you've studied, who you are today.
DUBROCQ: I went to college in New York City. I want to leave Sarasota after high school. New York City was the natural choice for me.
DANIELS: This is everyday for me, this is a part of my life. No matter where I am. There's something out there in the world. That reminds me, of 911. One of the things that we talked about wanting to do was going to the memorial there in New York, see it, touch it, be a part of it. 20 years later, it will bring closure.
BLACKWELL: So CNN arranged to bring the students and Mrs. Daniels to the memorial. The name of this piece is "Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning." These are two of the pillars that were there in the building, the tridents, the center tridents of the building. This was the last column that was standing.
DANIELS: Like this prayer, Lord, take me where you want me to go. Let me meet who you want me to meet. Tell me what you want me to say. And keep me out of your way.
BLACKWELL: These were the men and women who are running up the stairs, running into the buildings.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very grounding and everybody should go. I think it's a huge part of like our history to corrections.
DANIELS: Corrections, police department, criminal justice.
This is an answered prayer for me. I wanted to come to the museum but I wanted to come with my students that were with me on 911. As we were looking at some of the artifacts I thought to myself, and yet we arrived.
Even though this horrific action happened, we are resilient. We push through, we come back.
BLACKWELL: It reminds me of your singing to your students that day. Hold on, change is coming. It just seems to me like that there is a connection from that song to that moment. (INAUDIBLE)
DANIELS: I had to think quick on my feet to sing something because we were in turmoil.
Yesterday, a man said to me, how can you smile when your world is crumbling down. I said, here's my story. When I want to cry, I take a look around and I see that I'm getting back and I hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Hold on.
DANIELS: Change is coming.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Change is coming.
DANIELS: I know they are adults now but my memory is that you safe circle with my little kids sitting there reading.
Hold on. You can make it.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): You can make it.
DANIELS: Pigtails, ribbons, I remember everything.
Don't worry about it, baby. Hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Hold on.
DANIELS: Change is coming.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Change is coming.
DANIELS: Hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Hold on.
DANIELS: Everything will be all right.