Reflections on that fateful day in NYC, and remembering the unity it inspired

Photo credit: Kristina Leonardi

One of the strongest memories I have about 9/11 from 20 years ago is the amount of care and concern I received from around the world.

I had just returned from an adventure of a lifetime, attending the NGO Forum of the UN World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. I had boldly gone — by myself — as a representative of The Women’s Mosaic, the nonprofit I had started less than nine months earlier. (Read about TWM’s anniversary here.)

There was A LOT of controversy around this conference (see wiki description here) and much discord, anger and disorganization (yes, I was booked at a hotel by the organizers that was a brothel; many people were mugged or worse …). I even got to witness Fidel Castro hijack the closing ceremony by rambling on for hours … And controversies or not, just the very nature of gathering the most oppressed people from around the globe was intense.

To say it was a contentious atmosphere would be an understatement; there was a level of anti-American sentiment and hatred that I had never experienced before.

Photo credit: Kristina Leonardi

But it was also this incredible, overwhelming, eye-opening experience where I met, learned from and befriended people from around the world, mostly from developing countries. (Friendly debates about polygamy and women’s property rights with a few African men during a long car ride to Pietermaritzburg were especially memorable. …) Thankfully the Universe had my back and took care of me in more ways than one with magical experiences and gifts; a literal one is the OM pendant I wear to this day.

When I returned to NYC less than a week before 9/11, I was a changed person — I emerged from the belly of the beast and remember telling friends and family it felt like I had been in a war zone (energetically). I was still in a bit of shock processing all I had experienced, so by the time I woke up to the horror and tragedy of that day, part of me was not surprised or was just numb.

Then the beautiful calls and emails came in (remember, this was before smartphones and social media!) from so many of the lovely souls from abroad whom I had just met, wondering if I was OK and sending good wishes for me, my city and my country. It makes me tear up just thinking about it as I write this.

Twenty years later, on this 9/11, I was on my way to the river for some reflection when I looked down and saw this sidewalk art, and I thought how appropriate: THIS is the higher purpose and meaning of the day that I will always take away.

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Kristina Leonardi is a career and life coach who helps people to make the most of their personal and professional lives, allowing them to recognize, connect to, and fulfill their role in the world at large. Known as a dynamic, inspiring and down-to-earth speaker with unique yet practical perspectives on the topics of career development, work/life wellness and personal growth, she has presented to organizations such as Saatchi and Saatchi, UBS, HR Association of NY, American Women’s Business Association, and New York’s Science, Industry & Business Library.

Kristina offers individual, corporate and group coaching privately, as well as in affiliation with The Muse and New York Women in Communications. She is the founder of The Women’s Mosaic (TWM), a nonprofit organization that produced over 100 unique events over 10 years for more than 2000 women of diverse backgrounds to connect to themselves, each other and the world around them. She holds a B.A in International Relations from Boston University, and has taught extensively for NYU’s Center for Hospitality, Travel and Tourism and the Center for Career and Life Planning. Kristina was listed as one of Hispanic Magazine’s Top Latinas of 2004, received Tango Diva’s 2007 Diva Visionary Award, was honored by the WNBA’s NY Liberty as part of their 2009 Inspiring Women Night, and has been featured as a career expert in Forbes.com, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today, Money and The Huffington Post.

Kristina is also the author of Personal Growth Gab (PGG), Volume One: Thought-provoking, inspirational and entertaining essays to keep you connected with yourself and make sense of this journey called Life, a beautifully designed and practically organized compilation of nearly five years of weekly blog posts that both stimulate and address the questions of who we are, where we are going and how we can get there in today’s rapidly changing, fast-paced world.

For more information visit www.kristinaleonardi.com and follow her on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter for up to date posts, helpful articles and inspirational thoughts. Text CLEARLYKRISTINA to 22828 to be added to her mailing list.

Speaker,Coach,Writer.Very Tall. Expertise:People. All kinds, what makes 'em tick, how they fit into the world, how they can best connect to themselves + others.