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Young, Black & Gifted

The story of the three Black 6th graders who died in 9/11 and their future that could’ve been

By Joe PattersonPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 5 min read

The date is February 20, 2024 and today would have been the 34th birthday of Rodney Dickens. If you’re wondering who exactly he is, well he was one of three Black pre-teens from the Washington D.C. school district, including Asia Cottom and Bernard Brown who were all selected to attend an ecology conference that was hosted by National Geographic in Los Angeles, California in September of 2001. They were all selected for this prestigious, yet educational field trip because they were all very smart. Unfortunately they never made it to the conference because on the morning of September 11, 2001 they boarded American Airlines flight 77, which was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. as part of the 9/11 attacks.

9/11 has had a huge impact on me since it happened. There is so much about it’s history that I have studied and learned in the near 23 years since that fateful day, but the story of these three broke me down. Not even children were immune to the line of fire on September 11, 2001. A total of eight children on three of the hijacked aircraft that day died in the attack. It was these three children that struck the biggest chord with me and I felt it was important to share their story on one of their birthdays which also happens to fall on Black History Month because they are all the Black history that should have been.

Asia, Bernard and Rodney with their teachers and reps from NatGeo shortly before boarding American flight 77 on 9/11/01

Along with their chaperone of teachers James Debeuneure, Sarah Clark, and Hilda Taylor and two representatives from National Geographic, Ann Judge and Joe Ferguson, these three kids boarded American flight 77 on a journey to adventure. Of course this adventure was abruptly cut short when Al-Qaeda operatives Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Mihdhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi, Salem al-Hazmi and Majed Moqed decided to hijack American flight 77 and crash it into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Washington D.C.

The attack on the Pentagon

125 people were killed at the Pentagon, another 59 innocent passengers from flight 77 were also killed, Asia, Rodney and Bernard were among the slain. When I learned the history of these three children everything about them resonated with me. The fact that they were all young Black children who were only just three years older than me showed me that this could’ve been me who died that day. What makes their deaths even more painful was learning who they all were.

Rodney Dickens

The birthday boy Rodney Dickens was one of five children born to his mother Lashawn. He was a big fan of wrestling, something his mother Lashawn said he always made time to watch and he was very smart as he always stayed on the honor roll in school.

Asia Cottom

Asia was the youngest of two children born to Michelle and Clifton. Asia was a smart girl who loved to tutor other students in need. Her father Clifton was a teacher at the school she attended and her mother worked for the government in D.C. They both said she was so excited for her trip with NatGeo that she couldn’t sleep the night before.

Bernard Brown

Bernard Curtis Brown Jr. was the second child born to Sinita and Bernard Curtis Brown Sr. Bernard Jr. had a rather rambunctious energy and was known for keeping his teachers on their toes. He also loved basketball and school and made it a personal priority to always be a neat child. His father Bernard Sr. was an active veteran of the United States military and actually worked at the Pentagon as a petty officer during the attack, but was not present for work on the morning of 9/11.

I look at all of these young kids and my heart breaks for how the world was robbed of them like thousands of others on that terrible morning. These bright children were meant to be the future of our community. These brilliant young Black minds were already breaking stereotypes about Black youth with this very trip of which they were supposed to take. Going on a trip with NatGeo we could only imagine the great heights they would have reached later on in life. They could’ve been the next groundbreaking scientist, military officials or world leaders who could have open doors for young Black males and females that no one could have ever imagined.

It is such a shame that we will never know what Asia, Rodney and Bernard would have grown up to be, but we are left with the light of their families honoring their legacies by turning their deaths into purpose. Asia’s parents created a scholarship in honor of Asia that focuses on making sure that young children reach their goals through education. Asia, Rodney and Bernard shouldn’t just be remembered for how unfairly their lives were taken, but also for what they could have been. Every young Black individual walking this earth should know their story to give ourselves a better understanding of how fortunate we are to be here.

We have a lot of opportunities in front us that we need to be conscious of because these three young Black gifted individuals were aware of their opportunities and took advantage of them even as preteens who knew nothing about the world, yet they were ready to take it by storm. This Black History Month let us go forward and exercise the full potential that Asia, Bernard and Rodney never had a chance to explore. We owe it to all three of them to live as we are gifted.

~~Dedicated to the memories of Bernard, Asia and Rodney. The young, Black and gifted.


About the Creator

Joe Patterson

Hi I'm Joe Patterson. I am a writer at heart who is a big geek for film, music, and literature, which have all inspired me to be a writer. I rap, write stories both short and long, and I'm also aspiring to be an author and a filmmaker.

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Comments (6)

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  • Tiffany Gordon about a month ago

    Awesome job Joe! Rest in Paradise Asia, Bernard & Rodney!!

  • Raymond G. Taylor2 months ago

    Heartbreaking but beautiful story and wonderful memorial. So many people died that day. The story of these three innocents slain brings this massive tragedy into sharp focus and perspective. Thank you for bringing their story to life.

  • Rachel Robbins2 months ago

    This is a heartbreaking loss. Thank you for sharing their stories.

  • Sonia Heidi Unruh2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing their stories! Their light still shines through your tribute.

  • Lamar Wiggins2 months ago

    My heart goes out to them and their families. I really loved this insight you included: " We have a lot of opportunities in front us that we need to be conscious of because these three young Black gifted individuals were aware of their opportunities and took advantage of them." Amen to that!!!

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Awesome tribute!!! Heartbreaking story!!!💕♥️♥️

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