On September 11, 2001, a day thousands of lives were lost. For their grieving families, the world as they knew it would never be the same.
Susan Retik and her college sweetheart, Dave, settled into the life of their dreams—happily married with two children, and a third on the way. Tragically, one moment would change Susan’s life forever.
Dave Retik was on American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center.
“In the blink of an eye, everything changed,” says Susan. “We lost our story.”
Susan saved the last phone message her husband left her. “Hi. It’s me. I was just calling to say hello and that’s it. I just called to say I love you. Love you. I’ll call you a little bit later. Bye.”
–Oprah, “Making a Difference”
I couldn’t sleep last night. My teenage daughter was at a sleepover, as was my 7 year-old son. My teenage son was making too much noise with his buddies during the Kansas-OSU game and then afterwards (who orders dominoes at midnight?). I smoked a cigar, read a bad crime novel and ended up at my computer responding Nicholas Kristof’s piece about Goldman, the Village Voice, and sex trafficking. I finally got sleep somewhere around 2 pm.
When I got up I was glad to see that Kristof at least had retweeted my piece. Before heading off to church I forwarded my rebuttal of Kirstof’s attack to two classmates at Wesleyan, where I went to college. One is a Goldman employee and the other managing partner at Alta Communications, which was also called out in Kristof’s piece as owning a chunk of the Village Voice and, therefore, being guilty of participating in sex trafficking because Village Voice in turn owns an on-line classified website that allows adult advertisements.
When I got home from church I got a very disturbing message.
Dave Retik was a junior partner at Alta Communications where my classmate was his boss. In 2000 Retik bought a 5% interest in the Village Voice, a leading alternative newspaper for over a generation with an editorial stance that spoke out against the sex trade among many other things, for Alta Communications.
A year later Retik was dead.
There were plenty of tragedies that day, none more worthy than another. But let’s just say that Retik’s story, the impact his loss had on family, friends and his firm was something that no one who was even indirectly involved in it, as I was, is ever going to forget.
One of the things Alta had to do was pick up the pieces and eventually take over the investments that Rehik, and another Alta colleague lost that day, had made.
The Village Voice was one of those. That investment was a small and passive one. Over the course of time the business changed strategies and was undoubtedly challenged by the move to the web and social media. I have no idea if Alta was consulted on the 2006 Back Page investment which is the topic of Mr. Kristof’s column. But I highly doubt it. And even if they were with a 5% stake there is absolutely nothing Alta could do about it even if they were asked.
So here we are on a Sunday morning with an investment made 12 years ago by an amazing young man lost on 9/11 in a company he believed in then, with a reporter looking to tie Goldman to sex trafficking with no real concern for the unintended consequences of his actions.
Is this story really important enough to drag Alta Communication, and the memory of such a great human being, through the mud?
“I applaud Kristof for his focus on this issue, there are side affects to his article,” my friend emailed me.
In just one more twist of fate, I just got an email from Mr. Kristof’s ast, with whom I have struck up a friendship for unrelated reasons. She alerted me that Mr. Kristof is very aware of the David Retik story. He in fact has written about him before, on the anniversary of 9/11 in fact.
This weekend, a Jewish woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks is planning to speak at a mosque in Boston. She will be trying to recruit members of the mosque to join her battle against poverty and illiteracy in Afghanistan.
The woman, Susan Retik, has pursued perhaps the most unexpected and inspiring American response to the 9/11 attacks. This anniversary of Sept. 11 feels a little ugly to me, with some planning to remember the day with hatred and a Koran-burning — and that makes her work all the more exhilarating.
In the shattering aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Ms. Retik bonded with another woman, Patti Quigley, whose husband had also died in the attack. They lived near each other, and both were pregnant with babies who would never see their fathers.
Devastated themselves, they realized that there were more than half a million widows in Afghanistan — and then, with war, there would be even more. Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley also saw that Afghan widows could be a stabilizing force in that country.
So at a time when the American government reacted to the horror of 9/11 mostly with missiles and bombs, detentions and waterboardings, Ms. Retik and Ms. Quigley turned to education and poverty-alleviation projects — in the very country that had incubated a plot that had pulverized their lives.
The organization they started, Beyond the 11th, has now assisted more than 1,000 Afghan widows in starting tiny businesses. It’s an effort both to help some of the world’s neediest people and to fight back at the distrust, hatred and unemployment that sustain the Taliban.
Published: September 8, 2010