Those of us who graduated from the University of Connecticut Storrs in 1996 had the pleasure of hearing Quincy Jones speak during commencement ceremonies for the college of liberal arts and sciences. Being caught up in the moment, I do not remember much of his speech but I do remember Mr. Jones referencing all the talented people he had the pleasure of working with throughout his career including Michael Jackson. There is something else that we class of ‘96’ graduates also share; we are children of the ‘80s.’
There are many memories that we children of the 80s share including a space shuttle explosion, a president who loved jellybeans, a Pope who was nearly assassinated, and, of course, the video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. There was a period of time when even we predominantly white kids from St. Cecilia’s school would attempt moon walking down the hallways. I clearly remember Brian L. who proudly wore a white sequence glove and Colleen H. who had more Michael Jackson pins on her jean jacket than there was denim.
And then it happened; we turned on Michael. After a while, it was not cool to listen to Michael’s music. The gloves and pins were tossed aside for other icons. Yet it wasn’t just a change in fads that turned on Michael, society as a whole turned on him as well. Allegations of sexual abuse, drastic changes in appearance, and erratic behavior filled headlines for the past decade or so. Now, shortly after his death, we remember the good times; the singles, the dance moves, the Grammy’s. His star is shining again.
It begs the question, if we were asked our opinion of Michael on June 24th (the day before he died) what would we have said? Where was this outpouring of reminiscence then? There is a lesson in Michael’s death that transcends stardom, musical taste, and popularity. I ask that each of us take a look around and identify the Michael Jackson’s in our lives. Maybe they are once close friends or family members who have gone down a self-destructive path. Maybe they drink too much or abuse other substances. Maybe it hurts us to look at them now because we just can’t recognize them anymore.
Yet perhaps if we continue to reach out to them and continue to show them we care, their sense of hopelessness may start to erode. Perhaps, due to our kindness and outreach, they might find the strength to start turning their life around.
If there is a positive lesson in Michael Jackson’s death it is that we cannot afford to turn our backs on those truly in need; especially those who we call mother, father, sister brother, friend, and, sometimes, pop idol. I think I will take my own advice and start by looking at the man in the mirror.