Same Pain Twenty Years Later

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Mom and Dad on Dinner Cruise in Cancun, Mexico. Image Courtesy of Captain Vernon A. Richard's Estate.

Wake Up! Wake Up! Ness the Twin Towers are on fire!

Those were the exact words I heard on Tuesday morning September 11, 2001. I jumped out of bed and ran into my college roommate Stephanie’s room and witnessed with my very own eyes all the black smoke coming from the largest buildings in New York City. “Oh, I know my Dad is down there”, was my first response.

Me, dad and my brother. Image Courtesy of Captain Vernon A. Richard’s Estate.

I continued with my regular routine and prepared for an eight o’clock Child Psychology Class at Johnson C Smith University. I was a Senior living off campus in a Charlotte, NC apartment home, and all we had were two beds, one small couch, one television and a stereo (remember stereos?).

“Mom! Did Daddy work last night?” I asked her over the phone as I prepared to leave my apartment. Her response was “Yes, he went in last night.” Now, I don’t know if my mom was worried or proving her strength. But I stated to her again, “Well, you do know the Twin Towers are on fire?” I was confused by my mother’s reaction but knew that she wanted me to go to class and focus on my presentation. So I did, and I drove to the west side of Charlotte toward good old Beatties Ford Road in my 1991 Chevy Cavalier (yes, my daddy bought it for me). Remember, I am a Senior in college and on my way to graduate soon; so, I needed the credits.

Immediately after my presentation, my whole mood changed because I kept hearing other students talk about the reported news. I eventually excused myself from class without my peers knowing my emotions because it was the first time in my life, I did not want anyone to remember I was from New York. I did not want to show my weakness because as New Yorkers we are known to be strong. As I walk through campus and toward the student union, I saw a large group of students crowd around, and all eyes were glued to the big screen T.V.  Students watched thinking it is another day on the job and everyone will get the care and service they need, and we can all move along with our day, but “Wait a minute, this looks serious”, I said to myself.

I walk closer and sit for a couple minutes until one of my classmates Vitticus asked if I was ok. My comment, “No, I am going home V.”  At that very moment my instinct told me to leave, and I am glad I did because I did not witness the buildings collapse. I am not sure what my reaction would have been.

My dad and I, the morning of the African-American Day Parade of Eastern Prkwy. Image Courtesy of Captain Vernon A. Richard’s Estate

I saw the aftermath on television once I arrived back to my apartment. By that time, mom wasn’t answering her work number anymore. We both couldn’t get in touch with my Dad, brother or the firehouse. Phone lines were completely down. With my roommate Stephanie by my side, I had to wait, but a few moments later I started to pull, pull, pull, and pull every single photo I had of my Dad from my photo box so that I could  use them to go back up to New York and find him myself. I just could not believe it.  I was in denial and did not want to accept the fact that my smart, strong, jogger, provider, joker, giver, protector, and friend, my daddy perished. I never thought in a million years the World Trade Center would crumble and take the lives of so many individuals including my father, Captain Vernon A. Richard. Dad was a little under six feet, built with strong arms, hands and legs. I thought he was under that pile of rumble keeping other survivors safe while they wait to be rescued. I never gave up hope, but I also never thought about how heavy those building pieces really were. I was in denial and hopeful the fire department would find my father’s body. Unfortunately, he was found from pieces to ashes a year later on Father’s Day weekend.

My whole life I’ve known my father to be a fireman. During the 70’s, 80’s and till this very day there is still a shortage of black firemen and women on the FDNY force. My dad joined the Fire Department in 1977 and was stationed at Ladder 17 in the “Motts Haven” Era in the South Bronx up until his Lieutenant position in 1994. If you know the history about the South Bronx (my birthplace) then, you will understand that during the early seventies and eighties it was challenging to live and work in that area.

There weren’t many black firemen during that time. My dad was told numerous times that he wasn’t going to move up in the field and pass his test. My daddy proved them wrong! He was on a serious mission to bring many youth to join the Fire Department, and I used to hear others ask my dad if he was scared. His answer was always, “No because it is the best job on the planet.” My father was born and raised with three sisters and two brothers in Brooklyn Marcy Housing. My late grandmother stayed home full time while my grandfather Harold Richard worked and retired from the NYC Sanitation Department.

Family Picture.  Image Courtesy of Captain Vernon A. Richard’s Estate

We come from a family of hard workers, and we are very proud of “Big Guy” (my dad’s favorite two words). He was ranked in the top 90% to lieutenant promoted back in 1994, and after 9/11/01 he was the 4th black officer appointed to Captain and later transferred to Ladder 7 in Manhattan. He completed six New York City Marathons, was a Deacon member of the Spring Valley First Baptist Church, Vulcan Society Inc.member, Youth Council Leader, and many more. My father was our rock.  He enjoyed family vacations, roller coasters, swimming, food and eating just to name a few. Living in Rockland County my mom, brother and I understood the kind of job my father had, but we weren’t prepared for a lifetime of grief. I remember my mother telling me during my teenage years and my brother not to disturb Dad because he was studying for an exam in the basement of our home. My father was on a mission, and it wasn’t just to run in races and burning buildings, his goal was to become Chief and to teach others especially minorities how to become the same.

During these twenty years,  my family and I managed to give scholarship funds in memory of Captain Vernon A. Richard toward our local church. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 2004 which means my dad never saw me graduate. He worked so hard to pay my tuition; so, I had no choice but to go back and graduate. The year of 2016 my mother, and I worked along with the Marcy Housing Alumni group and Dr. Linda Burke (childhood friend of my father) on the renaming of a high school off Pennsylvania Avenue in his memory: The Vernon Allan Richard Fire and Life Safety HS Brooklyn, NY.

I am Vernessa L. Richard the daughter of Captain Vernon A. Richard, and it is my duty to continue the family Legacy.  Twenty years later, the pain never goes away because my Dad changed his work day shift to evening because he was going to take his mother to a doctor appointment on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. That part really touches home, but it shows how my Dad was a gentle giant from the city of Brooklyn and a Captain of the greatest occupation in the world. Ever since 9/11, I  see the numbers every single day. When I do, I take that special minute with my dad and know he is at peace.  My hero became my guardian angel, and I see him through my two beautiful girls every day. It is my duty to make sure the family legacy continues to give back and recruit more minorities to join the fire department. So, to be continued because there is so much work to be done. God Bless America!. Love the one and only daughter of Captain Vernon A. Richard.  

Be a part of Captain Vernon A. Richard’s Legacy:

How to Join the NYCFD

Best, 

Vernessa L. Richard

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Born in the Bronx from the parents of Vernon and Dorothy Richard, both from Brooklyn, NY along with her big brother Vernon Jr. later relocated to out of the city life to the suburbs, Rockland County, NY Family and Education were two major parts in their households growing up. As an HBCU graduate of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte NC 2004, studying Mathematics Vernessa worked in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system for a short period of time. In 2006 Vernessa returned home to care for her sick Mother who was diagnosed with Cancer in 2010 among with other illnesses. During this challenging time Vernessa and her Mother worked side by side to build their family legacy. In 2016 the both of them teamed up with the Marcy Housing Alumni Group to rename a school after her Dad Captain Vernon A. Richard. Currently residing in the Nanuet home she grew up in Vernessa continues to love and support her two beautiful daughter's Arielle Nyree 9 and Summer Dorothy 3. Aside from being a full time mom she plans to continue to build her Father's Legacy.