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Dr. Susan Taylor Headshot

Michael Jackson: On the Anniversary of His Passing

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Not too long ago, I flew to Burbank to be a guest on a new television pilot. In the car,
as I passed the Forest Lawn Cemetery of Glendale, I looked into the mirror and saw,
not the face of the grown woman that I have become, but my 7-year old face. That
face was one that only a mother could love, let alone think was beautiful. I flashed
back to the year,1964, before the slogan "Black is Beautiful" made us believe, before
the cry: " I'm Black and I'm Proud" was popular, before the raised and clenched
fists of the gold and silver Olympic medalists were seen on every television across
the nation. It was a runway's length of years before the first black Miss America
was crowned, light years before the first black astronaut blasted into space and
many graceful, elegant years before the first black First Lady of the United States of
America moved into the White House.

The nose in the mirror that day was flat, the skin was brown, the teeth protruded
and the hair was kinky. Clothes were purchased in the basement of the local
department store, hair was plaited and braces were but a dream. There were no
hair weaves, braids with extensions, acrylic nail, false eyelashes or teeth whitening,
then. Self esteem was instilled by the family and the surrounding neighborhood
(AKA....the Village). Childhood was a time of fun, with no responsibilities in summer
but playing outside until the streetlights came on, jumping double-dutch or playing
stickball.

As that seven year old grew up, there were five brothers from Gary, Indiana whose
music made her feel special with songs like I'll Be There and I Want You Back.
They made us burst with pride that we had our own superstars among the popular
groups, The Monkeys and The Beatles. We loved the harmony, the costumes, and
the dance steps of those five brothers. We loved their afros, broad noses, full lips
and brown skin. They were like us and we were like them. We loved them and by
extension, ourselves. The group of five, shaped our dreams, wishes and goals. Not
only did I want to grow up to be a doctor, but I wanted to grow up and meet Michael
and I wanted to grow up and marry Jermaine. Forty-some years later, two of those
dreams remain unfulfilled.

As I drove past the cemetery that Saturday morning, where Michael Jackson now
rests, I thought about the lyrics to his song, I'll Be There "I'll be there to protect
you, with an unselfish love I respect you, Just call my name and I"ll be there."

During my young years, the person who was "there for me" and who "called my
name" was my mother who, despite what we both saw in the mirror at that time,
told me that I was beautiful. Yes, she thought that the funny looking face, the one
that I saw in the mirror while passing the Forest Lawn Cemetery, the poor, black,
disenfranchised little girl from the ghetto of north Philadelphia with the broad
nose, brown skin, protruding teeth and kinky hair was beautiful. Not beautiful in
a conceited way or a pompous way, but in a protective and loving way that would

make the little girl think that she was a worthwhile human being and the world was
worthy of her ultimate achievements and accomplishments and she of producing
them. And so, I grew up believing that I was beautiful...(ok, ok, maybe not beautiful
but definitely cute) and that I could do anything that I set my mind to.

Regrettably, I did not get to meet Michael once I grew up. But Michael's death
made me reflect on lessons learned. I make sure to tell my daughters that they are
beautiful, young black women who have much to offer the world. To young boys
and girls who sit on the examination table in my office with heads cast downward,
I ask them to lift and hold their beautiful faces up for the entire world to see (and
don't worry, I will make the acne bumps and dark marks go away). Thank you,
Michael, for your broad nose, pearly teeth, kinky hair and brown skin. They were
beautiful....unalterably beautiful.