Category Archives: Humanitarian

Student Essays on "Black or White" and "Earth Song"

earth song7

In the past, I have shared with you some of my student essays written in response to the “Black or White” video. I would like to continue that tradition but with some new elements.This semester, I also added a study of “Earth Song” to the unit. Students were given a choice to write on either “Black or White” or “Earth Song.” Students were also permitted this time to write their essays outside of class, resulting in longer pieces that were substantially more in-depth. Every student granted permission for their work to be featured here. I will publish these periodically over the next several weeks and months, and will try to include at least 2-3 essays per installment.

Just as with any student body, my students represent a wide diversity of many different backgrounds, and many different levels of writing. As always, I am presenting their essays unedited, just as they wrote them (which, to give fair warning, may include warts and all in some cases, as these run the gamut from “A” to “C” level papers) but it is important to allow their voices and their thoughts to come through, unhampered by any attempts on my part to “clarify” their ideas or intent. My purpose here isn’t necessarily to showcase only the “best” essays, or only the ones that necessarily received A pluses (some will be “A” papers; others not)  or even the ones that I necessarily agree with (in every case) but rather, to illustrate a mosaic of many different views, opinions, and “takes” on Michael’s work as seen through the eyes of a generation who, for the most part (with a few exceptions) did not experience his cultural impact first hand.

Taken as a whole, I am very proud to say that I think many of these essays rank right up there with some of the best academic writing currently available on Michael’s work; certainly those who did earn “A’s,” for this was no lightweight assignment! But these are also very young voices, for the most part, unhampered by the concerns of academia. They are fresh, honest and inquisitive insights into what made Michael Jackson such a unique artist. I may have taught them the material. But the way they chose to internalize and interpret the material is their own. And, ultimately, so are their views.  I am proud to say that a few even chose to go a step beyond and to write on additional Jackson works for their final project, when they could have written on anything they wanted. I will feature these as part of the series as well, which included a wonderful analysis of “The Fish That Was Thirsty” and “Smooth Criminal.”

To kick things off, I am selecting three essays from my Eng 102 Section 401 class, Wendy Templin’s “The Future,”  Joshua Perry’s “Control: Earned or Privilege,” and Morgan Shaquille Drake’s “Looking Through A Whole New Set of Eyes.”


“The Future” by Wendy Templin

Michael Jackson was a very inspirational song writer and entertainer. Michael’s songs and videos were filled with symbolism and deep meaning. Michael Jackson did not only write songs for the dancing and pop hits, he also wrote because of his desire to attempt to change the way people thought about race, nature, and the importance of saving the planet from destruction. The song “Earth Song” is an excellent example of his strong caring and fear for the world.

Michael Jackson reached out to millions of not only his fans, but his critics as well. Michael never swayed from his character or his own style of getting his messages to humanity and saving the earth across to most of the world. The song “Man In The Mirror” is yet another example of Michael trying to get all humanity to look out at our own actions and how they affect the earth.

“Earth Song” can be seen as a “return to bliss” because if all of the world would try to fix even half of what his heart is screaming about in this song, then the world would be blissful and more like The Garden of Eden. On the other hand, his song can be viewed as a scathing lament to God because all of the happenings in this song are an injustice.


I view the song and video “Earth Song” as a sort of religious outcry to God for allowing all of the pain and confusion in the world to continue to happen. Michael’s background chorus constantly says, “What about us,” which reminds me of Jesus on the cross crying to God'”Why have you forsaken me?”. The happenings all over the world, to me, have always happened and most likely will; until Man decides to look at what each one of us can do individually to improve our surroundings and earth. I also believe none of this can happen without God in our hearts and soul driving us to make these changes.

Michael Jackson always seemed to have a personal crisis in his life, without even trying like other pop stars do for attention. Michael had so much love in his heart that he did not want to be like “grown ups.” I admired that in him because to be child-like, but not foolish, is what the Bible says is more appealing to God.

Michael also seemed to have a spiritual crisis for most of his life. It was sad to me. He always helped the wrong people, who in exchange for all of his love, caring, and financial help-made what I believe to be false allegations against him.

All of these things added to his extreme loneliness because of his stardom, put Michael in his own world so to speak. He could not just run to the movies or even a grocery store for any of his life without being hounded by fans, so he grew to make his own earth in his home. I believe when someone spends that much time alone, it does make them see things that others are too busy to see or notice in the world.

The symbolic act of the characters in the video grasping the dirt in their hands was an act of trying to hold on to whatever is left of this earth and cherish it before it is gone also. The video is like the earth is looking up at us crying at all the pain and damage we have caused it over the years.


In summary, I believe Michael Jackson is a genius who was very misunderstood and in emotional agony. The song “Earth Song” was his way of expressing his feelings about how mistreated the earth, all of the earth and every living thing on it, must feel if it could only talk.  Michael was the earth’s voice. Michael will forever be a voice in the subjects of the world which matter the most. Michael Jackson had a very strong opinion of the way we should treat the world and those who live in it, including animals and the seas. I view Michael as an inspiration of how to treat the earth. I see his song “Earth Song” as a map of what is wrong with our earth, and his cry for all of us to try and make it better.


“Control: Earned or Privilege” by Joshua Perry

In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White” he uses many different and sometimes difficult to understand symbols. These symbols are of racism, politics, and control over people and their ideas or free thought. This video is just as controversial now as it was when it came out. One of the biggest and strongest symbols is the element of control. This is evident from the very start and remains a prominent theme throughout the video.

Could The Theme Of "Control" Be Behind This Straight-Jacket Like Pose? Hmmm...
Could The Theme Of “Control” Be Behind This Straight-Jacket Like Pose? Hmmm…

Jackson starts the video out on what is his main focus for much of the video-control. He illustrates this by using the young boy up in his room with the boys’ parents downstairs in the living room watching television. The boy has his music up loud enough that the boy’s father has to get up and yell at him to turn that “crap” off and that it’s “too loud and it’s too late.” It is here that we as the audience see the true meaning of Jackson’s video. The boy then responds to his father’s demands by essentially one upping his father and bringing the larger than life speakers into the living room. The boy then plugs in his bright red guitar, which is in itself a method of control, and “blasts” his father into another continent. Thus, the father losing control of himself and his son.

At this point we get the first look at Michael Jackson as he proceeds to dance with many different nationalities of people ranging from Africans to Indians to Russians. The significance of this is that all of these people were at some point, if not still, under the rule or control of a tyrannical governing body. At one point Jackson compares all human beings to all others and says that essentially we are all the same and that the only difference is the color of skin pigmentation. Jackson goes on to be dancing in a group of Native Americans and incites a riotous behavior and seems to make the Native Americans to challenge the authority of those in power over them. In all of the groups that Jackson is interacting with there are historical transgressions against each and every one of them. For example, the Africans had one of the most brutal punishments or acts of betrayal that has ever been placed on any faction o f the human race, forced sell into slavery. These transgressions were always kept in order by someone in power who could by law or victory punish those peoples it had “enslaved” as conquered people.  These “rulers” as it were, used the threat of death, heavy taxes, and many other harsh punishments to keep “control.” In this video, Jackson bucks the normal trends of society just by associating with these people; showing that no matter the race or nationality one should always be proud of one’s self and should be allowed to live free from control and fear of too harsh a punishment.

Later in the video Jackson has many disturbing images that have been used by those that would seek to control those they deem lower than them. These images are those of a Soviet tank firing and of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross. It as at this point that Jackson almost seems to try to attack these groups by using such lines as, “I ain’t afraid of no sheets…” This could be seen as Jackson’s way of attempting to stand up for what he believes is right and just. This could also be an attempt to get people to condemn this type of behavior against others. Jackson states that the world is in a global turf war for the future of mankind. This video leads the viewer to believe that it should not matter what color your skin is but rather it should matter how “good” your actions are, and that defines who you are, not skin color.

Michael Jackson Music Videos

In the last part of the video Jackson contradicts his previous statement by appearing as a black panther and then transforming into himself. Jackson then uses a series of tap dancing sequences that all lead to different racially motivated themes. Jackson uses the car that he smashes to represent the hate shown toward the Ku Klux Klan and others like that. The car represents the perceived hate towards the blacks and Mexicans. Jackson wielding a crow bar and smashing the window is his way of trying to rid the world of “evil.” Jackson further states that race should not be a factor by having the sign of a hotel in Chicago, where the race riots took place, explode into a shower of sparks and thus effectively putting an end to perceived racism.

In Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White” the theme of control is very prominent throughout. Jackson uses many good stand ins for many of the symbols of hate. He uses symbols to show that control is a privilege and not a right.


“Looking Through a Whole New Set of Eyes” by Morgan Shaquille Drake

Every day millions of people change their religion or personal beliefs. When a tragedy occurs people can lose their faith and stop following a spiritual path they have been on their entire life. No one knows what will become of us after death although there are many theories and everyone assumes their religion is the correct one. In Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” he speaks of dying children and a crying man, wondering why these tragedies are allowed to happen without no interference from God. In the music video you can see nature has been destroyed completely and there are people on their knees grabbing dirt and crying which makes you think they are upset the way God has allowed the Earth to be destroyed or how we have destroyed it ourselves.

"He Was Like A Little Kid Who had Gotten The Toy He Wanted All Year"-Morgan Shaquille Drake
“He Was Like A Little Kid Who had Gotten The Toy They Had Been Wanting All Year”-Morgan Shaquille Drake

Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to celebrate birthdays or holidays but when you see the look on Michael’s face when he celebrated his first Christmas, he was like a kid who had just gotten the toy they had been wanting all year. I believe that this also was a new start for him spiritually and emotionally. Some of what I read in an article by Joseph Vogel talks about Michael always questioning his church’s elders about the Jehovah’s Witness’s doctrines because he found them unfair and because of this many years later he resigned from the faith. In another article by Joseph Vogel he writes that Jackson visited the Sistine Chapel and  St. Peter’s Cathedral at the Vatican, in which I believe he was trying to rediscover himself after leaving a faith he had learned, known, and dedicated himself to since he was a child. One must think after resigning from a religion that you have believed your entire life, people feel like they have lost their way and are very vulnerable in terms of finding a new belief. Some people become atheists and stop believing in anything at all. Everyone has a different faith and some spend a lifetime trying to determine what they truly believe in, whether it’s God or not. While one belief may allow you to celebrate birthdays and holidays like Christmas because it is the day of Jesus’s birth or Easter because it is the day Jesus arose, other religions don’t celebrate them at all. In many instances people forget what Christmas is, in which it is not about the presents you get. It’s the time you spend with your family and enjoying each other’s company. I feel I was blessed to be able to spend time with my family on Christmas and birthdays because other children didn’t, and will never have the memories I have.


A lament is a cry or plea to right an injustice; so many people have experienced this in some way. Michael characterized this in “Earth Song” as showing how we have destroyed nature, and that there are starving children and sick people, but what is unclear is who we blame. While some people blame God others blame everything they can come up with except themselves. No one stops to think about recycling, riding a bike, walking, and how all of these can contribute to a better world that we live in. What will it take for people to open their eyes to what’s really important in life, like what happens after death, will you see your loved ones when it is your time, or a truly beautiful kingdom waiting for us just beyond the clouds where all people who have obeyed God will get a chance to enter? If with all the religions we have that exist no one knows I’m sure everyone would like to think we could spend an eternity in Heaven and maybe Michael Jackson has already made it there so now in death he finally has all of his answers.


Madiba: The Man Michael Jackson Called "Grandfather"

nelsonmandela_mjWith or without his connection to Michael Jackson, the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela, better known to many by his tribal name of Madiba (“Nelson” was a misnomer forced upon him by racist missionaries when he was a child) is rightfully one that is being mourned all over the world. However, since this is a blog dedicated to all things MJ, I would like to take a pause to reflect on the very special relationship that these two global icons shared.

I would also like to expose and put to rest an unfortunate hoax that many fans do not seem aware of. It’s not my intent, of course, to rain on anyone’s parade. But truth is important, and I would like to celebrate the genuine friendship that Michael and Mandela shared without having it clouded by words neither ever actually said.

Mandela’s own history is well known, but I am sure for many young people today, Apartheid is just a word that they have only heard from history books, or maybe have heard their parents speak. As an American, I have to admit that in the 1980’s (a time when I was pretty much just a kid myself) I only had a vague notion of what people meant when they spoke of “Apartheid.” It was a word we heard a lot in the news, and I was aware that it was a cause that many political activists had taken up.  All of the really “cool” and “hip” artists seemed to be writing songs about it, and staging concerts in united protest of it. But for many of my generation, “Sun City” was just a catchy single. Could we truly understand, from the comfort of our suburban American homes, what was happening in South Africa, where a political prisoner falsely named Nelson Mandela, a man of royal birth, sat in jail with no hope of ever seeing his family or the sun again?


But the late 80’s were strange, violent, idealistic and-ultimately-liberating times. Revolution was in the air. If the 70’s had been largely a passive decade, the 80’s were a throwback to the 60’s, when it really seemed possible that we could create world change simply by coming together and making it happen. The Soviet Union crumbled, and the Cold War was over. The Berlin Wall came down. And Apartheid, too, would become a casualty of what seemed a revolution of freedom. In the late 80’s, there was a sense that what we were witnessing was the dawn of a new golden age, where all the old, oppressive regimes would make way for a new democratic age of enlightenment and hope.

In 1990, I still didn’t yet quite understand all of the hoopla surrounding this man Nelson Mandela, or what his release from prison truly meant. I just knew that it was huge, and accepted blindly that it must be huge for a good reason.

Well, turns out there were plenty of good reasons. You can read here just some of the reasons why this was a man celebrated and, now, mourned all over the world:

One thing I have come to know about Madiba. While often celebrated as a man of peace, he nevertheless had a lion’s heart. One of the many qualities he did share in common with his “grandson” Michael was that rare combination of humbleness and meekness, coupled with a quiet yet raging and invincible courage-the kind of courage that doesn’t beat its chest or puff its feathers, but nevertheless, manages to move mountains. They both endured much and suffered much in their own ways, yet came out stronger for it.

mandela8Mandela, of course, had many celebrity friends. Michael Jackson was just one of a long list that included many of the most powerful and elite celebrities (but usually those most active in political causes or humanitarian efforts). Among his friends, Mandela counted such luminaries, world leaders, and humanitarians as Princess Diana, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey, Pope John Paul II, Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, and too many more to mention.

Yet, for a man who could hold court with the world, there did seem to be an especial bond of affection that he held exclusively for the young man from Gary, Indiana, whom he would later call his “grandson.” Michael became more than just Mandela’s friend; he was, as Mandela himself stated in the letter read at Michael’s memorial, “family.”

This was an amusing story that was shared earlier by Dr. Patrick Treacy via Twitter:

“I was with Michael Jackson one day in my clinic in Dublin discussing a future concert we were arranging in Africa when Nelson came talking on the cell phone.

At first I thought it was a South African concert promoter and blandly spoke to him about how life was in the Cape for about five to ten minutes minutes before idly giving the phone back. Michael then just laughed and said ‘Hey, Patrick I’m really surprised to had to little to say to my grandfather ‘Mandiba’ when you had the chance to talk to him’ ‘You talk about him enough’.”Dr. Patrick Treacy

Fans of Michael Jackson are, of course,  very much aware of the long history and connection between Jackson and Mandela. Since late Thursday, when the news broke, I have come across numerous blogs featuring posts dedicated to the history of their friendship. And it seems only befitting that, just as Mandela reached out to console us and Michael’s family in 2009, the Michael Jackson estate has offered its own statement in the wake of Mandela’s passing:

“Michael Jackson was proud to call Nelson Mandela his friend. Like millions of admirers around the world Michael drew inspiration from President Mandela’s courage, his fight for human dignity and his commitment to peace. During his visits to South Africa Michael met often with President Mandela, who described Michael as “a close member of our family.” Our hearts go out to President Mandela’s family and to his beloved South Africans as they mourn their incalculable loss.”-John Branca and John McClain, co executors of the Estate of Michael Jackson. 

The opening montage of Michael’s HIStory tour included references to many iconic world leaders and political figures, among them JFK, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Neil Armstrong, Ghandi, and of course Nelson Mandela. While some have viewed Michael’s constant references to such figures-and the need to associate himself among their ranks-as more proof of his grandiose megalomania, there is actually a much simpler explanation. Michael spent his entire life paying homage to the people who had influenced him. Is it so very wrong that this little boy who grew up in such humble beginnings in midwest America dreamed of becoming like his heroes? Isn’t that exactly what we teach our children, that they should strive to follow the examples of our greatest leaders? Michael was attracted to these people, not because of their power or the mass adulation they inspired, but because their idealism and accomplishments embodied those same ideals that he most valued, felt inspired by,  and tried to emulate in himself. Michael wasn’t perfect, and nor were the people he often referenced. But they did inspire us to reach for the best that we can be, given our human limitations.

Michael Meets Nelson Mandela in Cape Town, South Africa to Announce The Michael & Friends-The Adventure of Humanity” Concerts:


I often say that what I most admire about Michael Jackson isn’t what he actually accomplished, or what he was. It’s what he aspired to be that I find so compelling. Michael’s dreams- his vision for the world and for what humanity could accomplish-were as limitless and vast as the sky that stretched beyond the view of his little bedroom window on 2300 Jackson Street.

Michael’s greatest heroes all seemed to share similar traits, as peace makers who nevertheless had the courage of their convictions; as “lambs” who nevertheless refused to lie down. They were men (and a few women) who won their battles through graciousness, and bore their scars with fortitude and grace. They were people about whom storms blew, without ever affecting their inner core. This is what Michael himself had to say about his friend Nelson Mandela:

 “He (Mandela) became a lamb in prison. He had no bitterness, to this day saying even though he is eighty and his youth is gone—because he was in prison so long—he doesn’t regret any of it.” “He [Nelson Mandela] is sweet, very childlike.” Q: Does he like to giggle? “He [Nelson Mandela] loves children because when I went to see him I had some kids with me and people were saying the kids have to stay, but Michael Jackson can come. I said. “I’m sure Mr. Mandela wouldn’t mind seeing children. I won’t go in unless the children go too.” I remember his representatives looked at me like this [makes stern and suspicious facial expression] and they went back and then they said, “Everybody come.” The first thing Mandela did is run to the children and pick them up and hug them. I knew he was that kind of man and he loved them. He was talking to them and then he shook my hand. I knew I was right.” ~ Michael Jackson

I have to wonder if this example wasn’t at least in part what enabled Michael to get through some of his own worst trials and tribulations. Perhaps he did see himself as being on a par with his own martyred heroes. And, just perhaps, he wasn’t too far off the mark in doing so.

Certainly Mandela himself gave some hint of this in his own condolence letter to the Jackson family after Michael’s passing:

“Dear Jackson family,

It is with great sadness that we learnt of the untimely death of Michael Jackson. Michael became close to use after he started visiting and performing in South Africa regularly. 

We became fond of him and he became a close member of our family. We had great admiration for his talent and that he was able to triumph over tragedy on some many occasion in his life. 

Michael was a giant and a legend in the music industry and we mourn with the millions of fans worldwide. We also mourn with his family and his friends over the loss of a dear friend. He will be missed and memories cherished of him for a long time. 

Be strong, 

Nelson Mandela”

I don’t think we have to guess too far to know what “tragedies” he was referring to, but then again, those tragedies may run far deeper than any of us will ever know, just as the heights of those personal “triumphs” may be far greater than we will ever know. Mandela knew Michael’s heart, and there is no doubt that their bond was a genuine and profound one.

At Madiba’s Private Birthday Party, 1999:


Nevertheless, I do want to point out that one particular quote I have seen floating around, attributed to Mandela about Michael, appears to have been a hoax originally perpetuated in 2005. I am referring to this quote, which many MJ fans have been innocently sharing on social media since the news of Mandela’s death broke:

“When you are behind bars with no hope of release, you need to find strength wherever you can. Personally, I found strength in Michael Jackson.”

Like many others, my initial reaction was that it was a wonderful quote that appeared to be from Nelson Mandela on his friend Michael Jackson. But I then wanted to know the original source of this quote, and did some checking. What I made was a pretty unsettling (though not entirely shocking) discovery.

A google search for the quote led me to this site, where the story containing the alleged quote appeared in March of 2005: is clearly identified as a satire site, and in the context of the article, it becomes apparent quickly that this is a made-up story meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. It goes on to quote Mandela as saying that he drew courage in prison from the example set by Michael Jackson in leaving The Jackson 5 and embarking on his solo career and then, ending it by claiming he also draws strength from Martha Stewart!

But the story did not originate on this site. A link there leads to a site called and a writer named Andy Borowitz, who appears to be the originator of the phony article.

This is what the contributor notes on that site says about Andy Borowitz:

JWR Contributor Andy Borowitz, the first-ever recipient of the National Press Club’s Award for Humor, is a former president of the Harvard Lampoon,and a regular humor columnist for Newsweek.comThe New YorkerThe New York Times and TV Guide. Recognized by Esquire magazine as one of the most powerful producers in television, he was the creator and producer of the hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and producer of the Oscar-nominated film Pleasantville.

Okay, so Borowitz, in addition to all of his other credentials, is a “humor columnist” whose specialty is writing satire.

I did some additional searching to see if I might, by some chance, be able to unearth any original interview with Mandela from which that quote might have originated. The search only led me to another mocking article from the same writer, Andy Borowitz, that was featured in the March 28, 2005 issue of Newsweek:

The Borowitz Report: Michael Jackson’s ‘Great Courage’

By  / March 28 2005 7:00 PM

Former South African President Nelson Mandela said today that he gained strength during his many years of imprisonment by thinking about Michael Jackson, adding that the King of Pop continues to be a source of inspiration for him today.

“When you are behind bars with no hope of release, you need to find strength wherever you can,” Mandela said in an exclusive interview with a Danish magazine. “Personally, I found strength in Michael Jackson.”

The former South African president said that while imprisoned in the 1980s, he drew emotional sustenance from following Jackson’s recording career. “It took great courage to leave the Jackson Five and go solo,” Mandela said. “I thought to myself, if he had the courage to do that, I, too, must have the will to go on.”

Even to this day, Mandela said, Michael Jackson is “a constant source of inspiration,” adding, “When I am not drawing strength from Michael Jackson, I am drawing strength from Martha Stewart.”

Jackson received kind words from another international icon today, the boxer Muhammad Ali, who told a Norwegian newspaper that he, too, draws inspiration from the platinum-selling recording artist.

“When people ask me where I get my strength from, I tell them that I look at the man Michael Jackson looks at when he looks at the man in the mirror,” the former heavyweight champion said.

Elsewhere, with enlistment levels falling, the Pentagon said it would focus its recruitment effort on people who had not read a newspaper in the past two years.

Borowitz mentions a “Danish interview” but there is no link to this source and all searches for it have only led me down a dead end path. It seems likely that, in fact, there was never any such “source” at all; that this is simply a fabricated story meant to poke fun at Michael and to mock his friendship with Mandela. In March of 2005, this would have been the height of the Arvizo trial (around the time of the infamous “Pajama Day”) and a time when mockery and satire of Michael Jackson in the press was at its unchecked height.


If anyone does know of the actual existence of this “Danish interview” I would love to know, but so far I have found nothing. And now I am finding it somewhat troubling and disturbing that so many fans are attributing a quote about Michael to Mandela that he not only never made, but that may have had its origins in a satiric article that was actually mocking their friendship. I hope I will be proven wrong, but until I see from it this actual “Danish source” and from anyone other than Andy Borowitz, I am calling hoax.

In Pretoria, South Africa, 1996:


However, allow me to just close this out by reminding you all what has always been said about small minds. Michael Jackson and Nelson Mandela did not have to prove to the world what their friendship meant, nor did they owe any explanations.

Nor did they have to “prove” what courage, grace, humility, and living your life by example meant.

Imagine Being Joe And Katherine, And Knowing That Little Boy You Gave Birth To And Raised In A Two-Room House Is Now Introducing You To The Leaders Of The World!
Imagine Being Joe And Katherine, And Knowing That Little Boy You Gave Birth To And Raised In A Two-Room House Is Now Introducing You To The Leaders Of The World!

When both of these men died the world stopped in its tracks and mourned, however briefly.  Both accomplished more, and did more for humanity, than all of the Andy Borowitzes of the world combined. All mockery aside, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nelson Mandela found courage and inspiration in Michael, even if only through his music. Mandela was a man whose heart had not been touched by bitterness, as Michael himself noted; a man who, for all that he had been through, still loved to dance, laugh and party. Don’t believe me, just read this account from a writer who still remembers vividly the day he saw Nelson Mandela dance:

Do you think Madiba, with that much joy in his heart, ever danced to MJ? You bet your bottom dollar he did! Both men led extraordinary lives; lives that carried them from the depths of poverty and despair to the heights of world fame and adoration. Michael may have indeed dreamed big and grandiose. But how many of us, in our lifetime, will ever get to meet our heroes, let alone become as family to them? Michael, like Mandela, would get to rub shoulders with presidents and queens, with kings and popes, all while maintaining the innocence and humbleness of spirit that remained at the core of their souls. Mandela may or may not have ever actually said, in so many words, that Michael’s courage got him through those dark days in prison. But what he did say spoke so much more.

He called him his grandson. He called him family. And sometimes, as we know, kinship runs deeper than blood.


RIP Madiba. May your long, courageous journey in this life reap its reward.


Michael's Own Words on Thankfulness and Gratitude

Does Fame Bring A Lonely Harvest?
Does Fame Reap A Lonely Harvest?

Tomorrow is that great American holiday known as Thanksgiving. Although it is a national holiday, it has sadly become in recent years our most underrated holiday-something to rush through and pass over on the way to the razzle and dazzle of Christmas. People barely take time to scarf down some turkey and dressing because their minds are set on Black Friday sales. For the kids at my college, it just means one more step towards the end of semester and Christmas break-an excuse to pack up, go home, and goof off for a long weekend. For myself and my colleagues, maybe it is at least one day (or two) without papers to grade and prepwork to do. Maybe; if we’re lucky. Other than that, it sometimes seems that Thanksgiving is all about the food; merely a stepping stone to that far more prestigious holiday. You know, the one that gets all the attention.

Sometimes It Might Seem That Way...
Sometimes It Might Seem That Way…

Yet there are many reasons why I prefer the quiet of Thanksgiving to the hustle and bustle of Christmas, a season that lost all of its meaning long ago other than how much money you can spend at the cash register. As a Native American, I do have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving-as a holiday, of course, not as a concept. But these days even those of us with Native ancestry still celebrate it, just perhaps in different ways-and with a deeper sense of what it actually means.

...But Only If You Let It. In This Photo, Michael Is Enjoying The Fruits Of Gratitude, From A Family In Japan.
…But Only If You Let It. In This Photo, Michael Is Enjoying The Fruits Of Gratitude, From A Family In Japan.

For me, it has become an annual day when I can finally just slow the pace down. I can sleep late, get up late, and spend some time just piddling or reading a good book. Our holiday meal is usually a tasty yet simple affair, since I only cook for the two of us and our six little furry babies. (I save the big, stressful family get togethers for Christmas). Perhaps that is one reason this holiday is so special to me. It means a time when our little family closes out the world and becomes all about US-not in a selfish way, but as a way of slowing down and taking time to celebrate “us”-to be thankful for each other and those little blessings in our lives. We spend 364 days of the year looking out. On Thanksgiving, we look within.

Michael, too, knew the importance of looking within. This morning, as I was thinking of the possibility of a Thanksgiving themed blog, my thoughts turned to the words Michael spoke to Rabbi Schmuley Boteach on the subject. Yes, of course I know Boteach is somewhat of a controversial figure in Michael’s life. Yet I can’t deny he has enabled us through his books to glimpse a very profound side of Michael’s spirit. I would like to quote this excerpt from Honoring The Child Spirit. It’s a passage I’m sure many of you are familiar with, but in the spirit of this special day, it bears re-visiting. (Note: This interview was conducted before the birth of Michael’s third child, Blanket. That is why he is not mentioned). It might be surprising for some to learn what this global celebrity and multi-millionaire actually had to say about the importance of thankfulness and gratitude.

Gratitude and Thankfulness

“I can’t take credit for everything I do…

There is always some higher source…”

SB: You don’t want to spoil your children, you don’t want them to ever take things for granted. You make sure they are not spoiled. Even though there is candy everywhere in Neverland, they can have it, you told me, only on their birthdays or maybe on days when special guests come. You want Prince and Paris to appreciate their blessings.

MJ: Well, when somebody gives them something, I want them to really appreciate it and not to ever be arrogant. When they get the smallest little thing they go nuts.  People go “Wow,” because it is a little thing and people are impressed by how they are not spoiled because they think they get everything. But I don’t let them get overtaken by it. There is so much stuff in storage and we put it away.

with the kids
“Well, when somebody gives them something I want them to really appreciate it, and not to ever be arrogant.”-MJ

SB: So children have the capacity to be spoiled and you have to prevent it. Like Grace (the children’s nanny), when we were with the kids at Neverland, she said she wouldn’t let them go on the big rides, she said “I want Prince and Paris to appreciate this.”

MJ: They don’t get to go on the rides much at all. Only on special occasions, like if your family comes over or a certain family in the area. I don’t ever want them to feel like it doesn’t impress them. That would be so disappointing.

SB: You always want them to share. You don’t want them to be possessive about Neverland and about the toys. Even when we have bought them presents and you say, “Oh, say ‘Thank you.'” Manners are very important to you, how they behave.

MJ: Yes, it is a reflection of the adults. It is important.

SB: You also don’t want them to be possessive about Neverland and about the toys.

MJ: Never like, “This is mine and this is not yours.” Urggh. I never want them to be like that. That would be so embarrassing. It is very important to share. We share our house. We let the public in. We let the children in from all walks of life, from all nations. They have to know that. We don’t discriminate in any way.

SB: You’ve often said you wished you had moments of celebration with your family, Sabbath dinners and such.

MJ: Oh G_d, yeah. People have to come together.

SB: Like what birthdays are about. This is a very interesting point. You’re saying that the whole purpose of these holidays is mostly as a meeting ground, as a rendezvous point, a context for people to join together.

MJ: That’s right, that’s right.

SB: It seems that showing gratitude to the people who gave to you as a child and even today is very important to you. Specifically, Berry Gordy who discovered you at Motown, you have always tried to show-even after you got the label and you could have forgotten about him-you always tried to show him recognition and got him into concerts and always acknowledged him publicly. So speak to me about gratitude.

MJ: Yes, very much. To be gracious and have gratitude and show appreciation for those who have been good to you and have lifted you up in times of need, who have been a great aid to your life. I have always appreciated those who have helped me down the road when I so much needed it so many times in my life. I don’t see how I could have forgotten the kindnesses done to me.

"I don't see how I could have forgotten the kindnesses done to me"-MJ
“I don’t see how I could have forgotten the kindnesses done to me”-MJ

SB: Then there are a lot of people who you really gave them their break, like Wesley Snipes, whom you launched in a music video. Or even Elton John. I read he was one of your opening acts in Liverpool or somewhere.

SB: Yeah, before he became famous he opened up for the queen of England, several things like that.

SB: Do you think people have responded with the same kind of gratitude?

MJ: To me, showing thanks? Not the way they should have. Some do, some don’t. I think maybe in the future they will see, I hope. But you know, whatever.

SB: Do you feel hurt when people don’t show you that kind of gratitude? I know I find it hurtful if I help someone with something and later they just forget you and they become very self-absorbed.

MJ: Yeah, it can be hurtful.

“To me, showing thanks? Not the way they should have. Some do, some don’t. I think maybe in the future they will see, I hope. But you know, whatever.”-MJ

SB: In terms of instilling a sense of gratitude in your children, you want them to be grateful for the little things, the big things?

MJ: That is very important. That’s right. And everything I do and other people do, to be thankful for the smallest little things, to say “Thank you” and “You’re welcome.”

SB: But usually when someone becomes very famous and very successful, they do forget the people on the bottom of the ladder.

MJ: I don’t understand that.

“…to be be thankful for the smallest little things, to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘You’re welcome.”-MJ

SB: Why do you remember them? How do you remember them?

MJ: Because I am sensitive to other people’s feelings and emotions…and I am very thankful. I don’t know if I could have done what I have done without the help of other people on the way, really. Even those who don’t know how much they helped me, I thanked them later. Even those who do things from a distance and don’t know that it is affecting me from another place.  Like writers and entertainers, people who died before when I was just a toddler.

SB: Did you ever call anyone up and say, “Hi, I’m Michael Jackson. I just wanted to say thank you because, you don’t even know this, but you made a difference.”

MJ: Yes. From Sammy (Davis Jr.) to James Brown to Jackie Wilson to Walt Disney, who I pray for all the time. I try to seek out their families if they have a wife left, a widow. Charlie Chaplin. I go to his grave and I pray. We (Michael looked at his children) love Charlie Chaplin. I don’t know if I could be the same entertainer without Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Wilson and Sammy Davis, Jr. I wouldn’t. They taught me a lot. About timing and rhythm and pathos and all those great things.

SB: Also, I read that you went to visit Charlie Chaplin’s widow?

MJ: Yes, I did. I was in my glory.

SB: Was that out of gratitude?

MJ: Yes. I had to say thank you to someone that was close to him. I said, “You don’t understand.” Or like what happened with Shirley Temple and I said, “Thank you.” She said, “For what?” I said, “For everything you have done. You have saved my life,” and she didn’t understand. I explained to her. Like the times when I felt like I couldn’t make it anymore, just having her presence there did it for me.

SB: Relating that to a childlike experience, do you think that gratitude is something that children naturally feel? You give them something and they appreciate it, they feel close to you if you give them a little present. If you play with them they don’t forget you, the way adults sometimes forget?

MJ: I think that is normal with children. Parents teach them to do the opposite, to be like, “Don’t talk to him,” to be cold and mean. But there are some good people. So I think they should teach children how to be loving and to understand goodness and real quintessential kindness. That’s important.


SB: Part of that has to do with humility. You are not afraid to admit that who you are today, a lot of people contributed to that. Maybe other people want to be arrogant about it and say, “I am responsible for my own success. I worked hard.”

MJ: I never say that. I am responsible for a lot of my circumstances, but there are a lot of people who have been there for me who have helped me along the way. I can’t take credit for everything I do. I don’t know if I can take credit for anything I do. There is always some higher source, just like a channel.

SB: G_d is the highest. So you are always thankful to Him and that is part of your gratitude?

MJ: Are you kidding? Of course.

SB: What would you say is the greatest gift G_d gave to you?

MJ: The gift of curiosity, life, love.

"The gift of curiosity, life, love"-MJ, On Being Asked What Is God's Greatest Gift To Him
“The gift of curiosity, life, love”-MJ, On Being Asked What Is God’s Greatest Gift To Him

SB: Now that you’ve become a parent, does it make you understand your own parents more?

MJ: G_d, I don’t know how my mother did it. I have two, she had ten. I don’t know how she did it.

SB: Does that make you love her and appreciate her more?

MJ: Yeah, I cry more now. She was handicapped, she had polio and I…I don’t know how she did that. I really don’t.

SB: Do you feel a sense of gratitude to her?

MJ: Yeah, she thanks me, Schmuley. She’s always thanking me. She always says, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.” And I go, “Mother, what are you talking about?” “Look what you’ve done for me,” I said. “Don’t thank me. Thank you.”

POST SCRIPT: 11/28/13: Speaking of gratitude and thankfulness, I just briefly wanted to touch on some other things that the MJ fan community can be grateful for this Thanksgiving. The two individuals who, in my estimation had the biggest hand in Michael’s death, have both felt karma’s sting in the last few days.

Randy Phillips has been canned as chief executive officer of AEG Live:

The reports stop just short at saying he was fired, only that the exact reasons for his dismissal are unknown. But given that he had just signed a five-year contract, it doesn’t seem likely to me that he stepped down voluntarily. (But even if he did, I still think it is karma at work on him, giving him no peace until he stepped down).

AND…(Drumroll, please!):


cease and desist1

cease and desist2

I had to make the image smaller so it would fit on the page. If you can’t read it, you can go to this link and find it full sized:

This is what I posted on Facebook earlier today in response to this news:

This is the best, most thankful news I could have heard for this Thanksgiving! Of course, the next question is…how much impact does a cease and desist letter actually have? It cannot stop an individual from performing the action in question. For example, Conrad Murray could still give interviews if he chooses to. But he will be doing it at risk of knowing that the estate may take legal action against him if he does. I don’t think Murray is in any financial position to risk a costly law suit. But we have seen before that this man seems bizarrely lacking in common sense. So will a cease and desist letter be enough to stop him? I honestly don’t know. I think where the real pressure needs to be applied is on the media itself who are giving him this platform. Murray is a sociopathic individual and beyond normal reasoning. He will look for any way possible to circumvent this order. He is also going to attempt to paint this as the MJ estate attempting to “silence the truth” which will make him even more of a martyr to certain factions. But that’s okay. Let the fool talk. It’s all he can do. I honestly don’t think too many are listening. To be honest, I don’t even think those in the media believe him or take him seriously. It’s more like, “Let’s see what bizarre thing comes out of this guy’s mouth next.” However, the pity of it is that, either way, they are still giving him a platform and lining his pockets. And with lined pockets, he will be even more arrogant and outrageous in his claims-unless he IS stopped. I said when Murray was released that the best thing he could do is slink quietly away and start his life over, maybe in another country. Since he hasn’t chosen that path, all gloves are off. I hope the estate nails his a*%.

I am sure I will be writing more on all of the above later.

For now, have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!