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One of the highlights of the Michael Jackson Memorial is an amazing speech given by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton's always a lighting rod for criticism for his "tell-it-like-it-is" style, and he presented it at the memorial. Sharpton gave one of the best speeches I've ever heard because it cut deep to the core reasons why many people love and defend Michael Jackson and for another reason: Jackson represents the growth of mainstream American Culture, where people paid less attention race and more attention to what they liked regardless of the skin color of the person who made what they liked.
Sharpton walked up and delivered an old-fashioned unplanned stump stemwinder speech. The kind I'd expect to hear from him in church. Here's the transcript of Sharpton's masterpiece presented by Seattlemedium.com:
All over the world today people are gathered in love viduals to celebrate the life of a man that taught the world how to love.
People may be wondering why there’s such an emotional outburst. But you would have to understand the journey of Michael to understand what he meant to all of us. For these that sit here as the Jackson family - a mother and father with nine children that rose from a working class family in Gary, Indiana - they had nothing but a dream.
No one believed in those days that this kind of dream could come true, but they kept on believing and Michael never let the world turn him around from his dreams. I first met Michael around the 1970 Black Expo, Chicago, Illinois. Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stood by this family till now, and from that day as a cute kid to this moment, he never gave up dreaming. It was that dream that changed culture all over the world. When Michael started, it was a different world. But because Michael kept going, because he didn’t accept limitations, because he refused to let people decide his boundaries, he opened up the whole world.
In the music world, he put on one glove, pulled his pants up and broke down the color curtain where now our videos are shown and magazines put us on the cover. It was Michael Jackson that brought Blacks and Whites and Asians and Latinos together. It was Michael Jackson that made us sing, “We are the World” and feed the hungry long before Live Aid.
Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level where people that felt they were separate became interconnected with his music. And it was that comfort level that kids from Japan and Ghana and France and Iowa and Pennsylvania got comfortable enough with each other until later it wasn’t strange to us to watch Oprah on television. It wasn’t strange to watch Tiger Woods golf. Those young kids grew up from being teenage, comfortable fans of Michael to being 40 years old and being comfortable to vote for a person of color to be the President of the United States of America.
Michael did that. Michael made us love each other. Michael taught us to stand with each other. There are those that like to dig around mess. But millions around the world, we’re going to uphold his message. It’s not about mess, but it’s about his love message. As you climb up steep mountains, sometimes you scar your knee; sometimes you break your skin. But don’t focus on the scars, focus on the journey. Michael beat ‘em, Michael rose to the top. He out-sang his cynics, he out-danced his doubters; he out-performed the pessimists. Every time he got knocked down, he got back up. Every time you counted him out, he came back in. Michael never stopped. Michael never stopped. Michael never stopped.
I want to say to Mrs. Jackson and Joe Jackson, his sisters and brothers: We thank you for giving us someone that taught us love; someone who taught us hope. We want to thank you because we know it was your dream too.
We know that your heart is broken. I know you have some comfort from the letter from the President of the United States and Nelson Mandela. But this was your child. This was your brother. This was your brother. This was your cousin. Nothing will fill your hearts’ lost. But I hope the love that people are showing will make you know he didn’t live in vain. I want his three children to know: Wasn’t nothing strange about your Daddy. It was strange what your Daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it…He dealt with it anyway. He dealt with it for us.
So, some came today, Mrs. Jackson, to say goodbye to Michael. I came to say, thank you. Thank you because you never stopped, thank you because you never gave up, thank you because you never gave out, thank you because you tore down our divisions. Thank you because you eradicated barriers. Thank you because you gave us hope. Thank you Michael. Thank you Michael. Thank you Michael!
Fox News Bill O'Reilly said Sharpton's speech was racist, but that's certainly not the dumbest thing I've ever heard O'Reilly say - his crack about not knowing "Black restaurants" could be nice places to go to takes the prize - but it's close.
The bottom line is Michael Jackson did change American Culture. Think about it. He became a singing star just four years after the passage of The Civil Rights Amendment in 1964 and continued to produce hit after hit to his death, all the time gaining fans around the World who didn't care what color his skin was; they just liked his music and him. That's powerful, and all the more so when one considers the racial problems we've seen and experienced. It's really gotten better and Jackson deserves a lot of credit for that.
Conservatives can't deal with anyone telling the truth about race relations, but they'd better start because it's their inability to understand how race relations have changed that has doomed the political future of conservatives and of the GOP.
A political party historically based on hating a racial group - as was true for the GOP for decades - can't survive when people of different colors are mating as one. Causing that in a small way is but one of Michael Jackson's gifts to society. If it's hard for you to deal with that fact, one of the "hard facts that create America" as President Lincoln would say, you're not American at all because you don't get your own country.