On the first anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, I took a moment to pause and reflect on the last 12 months, while I watched fans walk through the gates of Forest Lawn.
After Jackson’s death in 2009, the market became saturated with articles and books examining and paying tribute to a life and career that has been subject to media and public scrutiny for nearly 45 years. Sifting through all these writings, I became aware that there was a singular lack of material that focused solely on his fans. Considering the extraordinary and widely acknowledged relationship Jackson shared with his fans throughout his career, I found this odd and intriguing.
Often labeled obsessive and accused of being blinded by loyalty, throughout Jackson’s life his followers have not only remained faithful and steadfast in their support of his success, but also during his trials and bad press. I found myself asking why? What was it about the pop icon that elicited such unerring devotion? Better yet, what were their personal stories; what changes had occurred in their lives as a direct result of Jackson’s life and death. As a writer, my next project had found me – a project from the perspective of ordinary people whose lives were profoundly touched by Michael Jackson; a unique book about the fans, by the fans, for the fans!
In November, 2009, I had the rare opportunity to discover what was at the heart of the fans’ unmatched devotion when I started receiving submissions for a book I was creating in conjunction with The Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait, titled Fans In The Mirror. Reading their true stories and poems, I was struck by one fact. These were ordinary people living normal everyday lives that had sometimes been touched by personal tragedy and grief, but also had been changed by Jackson in positive and often dramatic ways. Although all material in the book is insightful, inspirational and worthy of recognition, I have highlighted three in particular as examples of the profound affect Jackson had on individual lives.
When I received Vera “Faith” Badder’s poem for the book, I was well aware of the personal tragedy that had befallen her family. Joining the MJTP in August, 2009, Vera became a volunteer for the Tribute (an interactive portrait of Jackson, by internationally renowned artist David Ilan, made from hand drawn dots, with each dot representing a fan somewhere in the world). On October 28, the same day that her family had tickets to see “This Is It” at their local movie theater in Germany, their 13 year old son Joshua was diagnosed with leukemia. From that moment forward, Joshua was fighting for his life.
Not long after, the Tribute held a contest for their younger members, inviting kids from around the world to write why they should be chosen to have a dot next to Michael Jackson’s dot in the Tribute Portrait (in the area of the heart, which is reserved for family and friends of Jackson’s. One of the entries was from Joshua:
My name is Joshua. I'm 12 years old. I'm from Germany. I love MJ. His dance, his music, his heart + love for children. I miss him + I need him right now. I have Leukemia and I know he would help me. Maybe being next to Michael's dot would help. I just had my 3rd chemotherapy and today I'm having a bad day. Wish he was here with me. Love Joshua.
Joshua was named the winner of the contest and the artist placed a dot in his name next to Jackson’s. Joshua’s submission was posted on the Tribute website, along with is mother’s updates on his condition. As a result, there was an incredible outpouring of love, prayers and support from thousands of fans from more than 180 countries.
Seventh months after Joshua’s initial diagnosis, many surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, Vera updated his progress in an emotional and inspiring letter:
One thing I'm certain of and that has something to do with all of YOU! After recent talks with Joshua's doctors, we know they are very surprised about the positive outcome so far. They told us they never expected Joshua to respond so well. They told us Joshua's kind of leukemia wasn't a "simple" one and that he was doing miraculously well under the circumstances. I'm not sure if it's just a miracle or the power of prayers, love and support coming from all of YOU! ... I believe having YOU by our sides is making a big difference and if it's not too much to ask, I'd beg you not to stop praying for Joshua! Please continue to send positive thoughts and prayers our way. You set something magical in motion, please keep it alive!
If I was an artist and had to draw a picture to show what was happening here, I'd draw a beautiful, thin, but strong web that was spun all around the earth by people of every race, color and age; a web of prayers, love and music. A web that was there to protect Joshua from falling off the face of this world too soon; to catch him when he falls and to rock him gently when he feels weak. To throw him back up on his feet over and over again and above it all I can see the smiling face of our Michael, approving of those who keep his legacy alive ~ *Y*O*U*!”
Anna Traveres’ submission records the moment when she first became a Jackson fan and the influence his humanitarian work has had on her life.
Michael had such great dreams to save the world and help people who really needed to be helped, that I couldn’t be indifferent to that. I had to help, and help all the charities he had donated to throughout the years. There were more than 30 charities and he gave millions to help people in need.
Today after his sudden and tragic death, I feel a great void and emptiness. It’s as if the world has lost the only person who really cared, a person who really wanted to make changes, to end wars and famine and heal the world. Michael taught me that we must never give up; we must always go further and pursue our dreams and our goals.
Now I am helping two NGO's here in Portugal. AMI, Associação Médica Internacional is a medical organization whose goal is to help wherever they are needed. They do humanitarian work all over the world, but mainly in Africa. Now they are going to Haiti, and have a team that is going to be there to help with doctors and nurses. They also do humanitarian work here in Portugal, helping the homeless and the needy. They are all volunteers and Portuguese.
Another NGO that I help is LAÇO, a Breast Cancer Charity. I am a member of the MJ Children Foundation and I am also a member of Care2. I am also helping UNICEF. I try to help in whatever way I can to make a better world.
Michael Jackson is my guru and inspiration. We must carry on his work if we want to really make a difference and change our world.
When Eliza Lo started sending me her artwork for the book, I was amazed by the high quality and sheer talent of her pieces. These were truly some of the greatest renderings of Jackson I had ever seen. I naturally assumed Eliza was a professional artist. However, I was surprised to learn that this was far from being the truth. In a recent article she submitted for publication, Eliza describes her feelings about Jackson and why she started to draw him.
I never was a great fan of Michael’s until June 25th, 2009, when the whole world stopped and mourned the loss of the greatest entertainer of all time. I began reading almost everything about him, wondering why he made such a huge impact on people. I am amazed with his achievements in music, selfless devotion to children and the contributions he made to the world, but I am angry with myself for how little I knew about this great man and I realize now we have lost a True Genius, a Great Humanitarian, an Ambassador of Peace and most importantly, we have lost hope for healing the world!
I started drawing him with my heart though I have never learned how to draw. I didn’t know if the drawings were good or bad, but I tried my best to capture his essence on paper to honor and pay respect to our King of Pop; to let the world know he is INDEED a very beautiful man with a very beautiful heart and soul! Through his inspiration, we carry on his legacy; to help the children, to save the planet and to reach out our hands to those who are in need regardless of their age, sex and races and to make the world a better place!
Creating this book has not only changed my perspective as a writer, author and editor, but also how I view Jackson and his fans. Understanding who he was as a person and not just a personality, enables a clearer understanding of why his fans loved and respected him so much.
Fans in the Mirror is a companion to a documentary project by the same name, which is being developed for The Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait by Don Wilson (the creator, director and producer of the “Man in the Mirror” video). Like the book, the documentary will focus on the fans themselves. As Wilson envisions it, the film will “fly over the dots in Michael’s Tribute Portrait and zoom in on some of them to reveal the individual fans behind the dots. It will take audiences all over the world and introduce them to the very different cultures and people who have one thing in common – Michael Jackson – and who are now connected through their dots in this one-of-a-kind participatory portrait. It will reveal how one man had the power to inspire and change countless lives in a world that seemed determined to destroy him.”
Giving the fans a voice through this book has provided me the chance to come to know Michael from an unfiltered, intimate and very real point of view. I have gained new respect and admiration for him on a much higher level and therefore appreciate more how important his role in this life and our world was
Fans in the Mirror (a publication of The Michael Jackson Tribute Portrait)