I once compared the Million Man March to Michael Jackson.
I unsuccessfully argued to an executive producer of a network news broadcast, that just as Michael Jackson was the first American Superstar who sang Black Music in a Black body; the Million Man March was the first grassroots movement expressing the “body” of Black discontent, which had a Black “head” on the body.
The editor wasn’t buying it. While conceding that American vocal superstars Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley both arguably sang Black Music, and that Michael Jackson’s accomplishments had certainly equaled or surpassed those two Original, Old School American Idols, that was as far as I was permitted to go with my metaphor.
Purely as an entertainer, it’s fair to compare Michael Jackson to Jazz immortal Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, who changed almost everything about the way American music was played and listened to before the 1950s.
Michael is one of the Archangels. In that heavenly choir–The Jackson 5–people all over the Planet Earth heard and bore witness to Michael’s angelic voice, a gift to us from God Almighty … “A-B-C,” “I’ll Be There.”
He touched us, across languages, across color lines, across national borders, Michael Jackson affected us all and he took us to a place we’d never been together. His music–Black Music–speaks The Universal Language.
Michael Jackson’s impact on us all goes beyond category. There is hardly one single American of any ethnicity, born after 1970, who can’t sing the lyrics to several Michael Jackson songs from memory.
“I remember I was just a child, sitting and watching ‘Thriller’ on TV with my mother,” Kytja Wier, a reporter for The Washington Examiner said to me in an interview. “I told my mother. He is going to be famous forever.”
As a dancer, did Michael Jackson take lessons from Sammy Davis Jr.? The Nicholas Brothers? Makhail Baryshnikov? Or could he have taught them all a step or two? Just asking.
We embraced him and his inspirational story because he started out like so many of the rest of us begin, deep, deep in “Da ‘Hood,” “The Ghetto,” “Tobacco Road.”
Gary, Indiana, his hometown–a scrap-apple, steel mill town. Eventually, practically everyone from Northern Indiana grew proud of their hometown because of The Jackson Family. “He was a symbol of pride, in an area that didn’t have very many symbols of pride,” Michael DeBonis, author of “Loose Lips” in The Washington City Paper, who grew up Lake County, said in an interview. “My grandfather worked in the same steel mill where Michael Jackson’s father worked.”
Despite his humble origins, it’s very likely that Michael Jackson never went inside a bank. From a very, very young age, he always had so much money that Bankers always found a reason to go to wherever he was. He was that special.
He was gentle and generous. He was one of us. He always belonged to us. But to the larger world, he meant much, much more than we could even know. Michael Jackson is The Original Tiger Woods. Michael Jackson is The Original Oprah Winfrey. Michael Jackson is The Original Barack Obama. Michael Jackson broke the old, color-blinded mold, which defined anything and everything “Black” in America, automatically as being on a margin somewhere, rather as defining the mainstream.
Michael Jackson is The Original Venus/Serena Williams. Michael Jackson’s genius, his immortality was his universal, post-racial appeal. At a time in American culture when race defined almost everything else, Michael Jackson became the Original Post Racial personality.
Michael Jackson transcended many boundaries with us. He took us beyond all known borders. Mostly we didn’t even know we’d gone somewhere new.
He was generous with his time, his talent. His compositions–We Are The World, The Man in the Mirror–taught us to start with ourselves and then to love for our Brothers and Sisters what we love for ourselves. Michael Jackson was The Original Dr. Cliff Huxtable. He supported causes championed by the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as the African Ambassadors’ Wives Association in Washington.
Unfortunately, most of us just saw him in the context defined by tabloid journalists, who used only his most unflattering nicknames whenever they could.
I was blessed to see Michael Jackson up close and in person–as he was–on one special day: Jan. 16, 2004, the day he was arraigned in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on child molestation charges. A delegation from The Final Call witnessed the day’s proceedings.
“Come to Neverland,” he told his supporters, printing and handing out invitations with directions to his ranch. He was at his lowest. He faced criminal charges in the Santa Barbara County Courthouse which could have put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
But he stood confident of his innocence. Some fans came from Japan, others came from Europe–Poland, England. I saw two young men from right there in Santa Barbara. They came on skateboards.
After his court appearance, he climbed on top of the SUV in which he was riding to express his gratitude for the support of the thousands who crowded the small town to be with him. He threw a kiss to the crowd from the roof of the truck.
Later, he fed the hundreds who went to his ranch, healthy menu choices and Hagen-Daz ice cream bars. All the rides and the Neverland Theater were in operation, including the scale-model train ride around the grounds. There was no charge for anything, not even parking. That was a grand day. Jan. 16, 2004.
Months later, the jury found Michael Jackson innocent. We knew he was innocent all the time.
Michael Jackson Forever.
Long Live The Spirit of the Million Man March.
(Askia Muhammad is a senior correspondent for The Final Call. See his multimedia tribute on YouTube.com.)