On June 22nd, humanitarian and doctor Patrick Treacy gave a moving speech in memory of Michael Jackson at Gardener Street Elementary School on Los Angeles, California. Gardener Street, the last public school attended by Michael as a child, is the site of the Michael Jackson Auditorium—as named in 1989, and then uncovered last year after seven years under cover.
Video and transcription follow.
Fifty three years ago, a young black boy was born in a small town in Indiana. This was a different time, a time when the African-American civil rights movement tried to gain freedom from oppression by white Americans.
It was also a time when the next generation of post-war Americans were growing up, the sons of soldiers who had freed prisoners from the tyranny of prison camps like Auswitch and Buchenwald, a time when all of Europe was filled with a profound and abiding gratitude to the American people.
As Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust said in a speech to an important gathering of White House dignitaries in 1999, “Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human being.”
And gratitude is what we should now have today for that young American black boy. His name was Michael Jackson, someone I am privileged to call my friend, somebody who often stood alone to fend for the children in the world, for the destitute, for the victims of disease and injustice.
Michael was very troubled by the suffering he saw in the world and even more to the indifference to it. His first words to me when we met were, “Thank you so much for helping the people of Africa.”
There were no airs and graces, no pomp and circumstance and his only concern was for the lives of other people who lived on a different continent than the one in which either of us were born.
I had been to Africa and seen the devastation of the plague of HIV at first hand and when we discussed it, there was tears in his eyes and he said we had to do something together for the people of Africa.
He planned to hold a great concert in Rwanda and we would fly there together in his private plane and then down to see his great friend, Nelson Mandela. Sadly, these events were not to happen and the world lost one of its great humanitarians.
In that speech, Elie Wiesel had also some words to say about indifference. He said, “To be indifferent to the suffering in the world is what makes the human being inhuman.”
For the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbour is of no consequence. Their lives are meaningless as indifference reduces the other to an abstraction. Indifference always benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.
Michael Jackson felt that pain, not just for the hungry children, but for himself when the people of America remained indifferent to the injustice that was perpetrated upon him making him a virtual prisoner in his own land, causing him to flee to the Middle East and eventually find solitude in Ireland, my home.
What an irony that someone who cared so much about the rest of humanity was rejected by his own. It was a pain he felt deeply and one that on occasion he discussed with me, but mostly he did not want to talk about it and I never opened those painful memories…being like him, exiles beyond the norm.
Michael Jackson was never indifferent. He brought light where there was darkness, hope where there was despair; he never turned away from cruelty when he could give compassion.
We have just started a new century, a new millennium. The first ten years have been some of the most brutal the planet has ever encountered. The century started with terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These actions dragged this great nation into conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been wars in over twenty countries, which cast a dark shadow over humanity: So much violence, so much pain…
If there is one thing to do today, to preserve Michael Jackson’s memory, that is not be remain indifferent to the suffering we see all around us in the World.
There are times when I feel God has abandoned this world, the terrible earthquake in Haiti where bodies were cut from building by hacksaw, the funeral undertakers in Zambia where the coffin-makers work banging nails in wood late into the night, the streets of Northern Ireland where throats are cut for pronouncing a word on a beer bottle with the wrong accent.
I have lived in Baghdad, I have been a prisoner of Saddam Hussein, I carry the war wounds of Northern Ireland and I say to you here today that there is a God who looks down on all of this wrong and he brought us Michael Jackson to help to solve it.
Over seventy years ago a ship with a human cargo of one thousand Jews was turned away from the port of St. Louis back to Nazi Germany. The ship, which was already on the shores of the United States, was sent back and the people left to the fate of the dictator.
This happened in America, a country with the greatest democracy, the most generous of all new nations in modern history. It is happening again today, with the bombing and terrorizing of innocent children on foreign shores. Don’t let it happen, stand up for the things Michael stood for, to wipe out injustice, to combat disease and try and save the planet we live in.
What will the legacy of Michael Jackson? How will he be remembered by generations as yet unborn?
Let’s be grateful to God that he sent us such an angel to live amongst us for a while and let us not be indifferent to the wrongs we see around us. If Michael ever wanted us to do one thing that would make him happy as he looks down over us today it would be not to turn away from the victims of oppression and aggression and if in doubt about ever knowing what how to act, just think: “What would Michael do?”
—Dr. Patrick Treacy; June 22nd, 2011