Reflections on 9/11: Faced With Adversity, I Will Persevere

Sep 8, 2014

This post is by Roger Wong, global philanthropy manager at eBay. Today he was named an AmeriCorps Alums 20th Anniversary Leadership Award winner. (See all the awardees on the AmeriCorps Alums 20th Anniversary site.)

Roger Wong

It's impossible to forget the moment when I realized finding myself was less about finding a career, and actually about discovering my purpose. For me, that moment was on Sept. 11, 2001 when I saw my friend brutally murdered as her plane slammed into the World Trade Center.

I was angry, confused, and sad. I had questions. How was this possible? What could I do? I was looking for a way to respond to this tragedy that rattled our nation and our world. So, faced with apathy, I took action.

Until Sept. 11, I wasn't concerned with these matters. I was focused on building my career. Growing up, I was one of only a few immigrants in the small town of Stoneham, Massachusetts. My family was from Hong Kong. I was encouraged to focus on how to do well in school and achieve career success.

I often suppressed the culture of my home country because I thought I needed to do so to fit in and to be successful. I felt a high level of responsibility to support my family by finding a decent-paying job. But as the planes crashed into the towers, they also crashed into my life plans.

I was a year into working as an analyst at a global hospitality consulting firm, but I returned home to serve in AmeriCorps. I served two full years through the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship, first at Social Capital Inc. and then at Boston Cares.

At a time of sadness and shock, my service with AmeriCorps taught me how to fight for a better world. Rather than turning away, through AmeriCorps, we chose to tackle tough community challenges head on. I facilitated a citywide dialogue to reverse declining rates of civic engagement.

I learned about program design and the importance of building in measurement tools to assess progress toward your goal. I learned how to build relationships with communities and find the seemingly-elusive leverage points that catalyze change.

Through AmeriCorps, I also realized I wanted to spend my life working to help individuals overcome societal barriers as I had done – and launched a career in global philanthropy. My career trajectory was no longer about the bottom line or what I was "supposed to do." I learned that a life of service isn't contradictory to success.

Now, working in corporate social responsibility initiatives at international corporations like Charles Schwab and eBay, I manage strategic partnerships, charitable giving programs, and engage employees in volunteering. I know in no uncertain terms I would not have these roles, nor be as well-equipped to perform them, were it not for my service with AmeriCorps.

This week, which marks the 13th anniversary of when the towers fell, also marks the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. It's a time of grief and remembrance, but it's also a time of celebration. This week, the President is leading a nationwide saying of the AmeriCorps pledge on the anniversary of the first class of AmeriCorps.

This pledge will help kick-off the service year for tens of thousands of new AmeriCorps members across the country, as well as encourage the nearly one million alumni of AmeriCorps to recommit to this pledge. On this day and all days, I hope we remember the lives lost on 9/11 and the lives changed.

After 9/11, I could have walked away unchanged. Rather, I learned that through service all things are possible. As the AmeriCorps pledge says, "Faced with apathy, I will take action. Faced with adversity, I will persevere."

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, in conjunction with both 9/11 (designated a national day of service & remembrance) and the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps (9/12). The Franklin Project envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service — a service year — is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American. The Franklin Project is chaired by General Stanley McChrystal. To learn more about The Franklin Project, watch this video.