(NOTE:  My following article was originally published on the day that Michael Jackson died, June 25, 2009.  On the second anniversary of his passing, I would like to share my tribute again.)

One of these kids is doing his own thing …

When I was a little girl, I always liked that segment on Sesame Street, the kid off by himself “doing his own thing” while three other children played the same game. They were all followers, but the other kid, he was a leader, his own person. I wanted to play with that kid. I wanted to be that kid.

In real life, I later learned, “doing your own thing” gets you labeled as “different” (and it’s not meant in a flattering way). As a young girl, awkward and shy, I felt like a complete outsider. No one supported my dreams; everyone told me what I most wished for was truly impossible. I wanted to tell stories, write books, be an actress, make movies … none of these things seemed to be in the realm of impossibility. But, no, I was told, they indeed were. I was “doing my own thing” and it needed to stop.

Where was the real kid that I could look up to that was doing his own thing too? As remarkable as it sounds, that person was Michael Jackson. I saw this smallish man on stage, red sequined jacket, flooded pants and shiny socks, one beaded glove … now that was a guy doing his own thing. Never in my life had I seen anyone so unabashedly honest. For me, that’s what honesty is about, being true to your nature, not following trends, liking what you want, doing what you want, never following (learning but not copying), living your own life on your own terms, being the truly only you.

His influence, well into my adulthood, shaped my life and career. I remember one of the first things I ever heard him say (and this is not a direct quote): They told me I would never have the best selling album of all time, so I set about proving them wrong. He still has that achievement today (and we all know, so many more).  A little poor kid from Indiana did exactly what he wanted (never stopping, never listening to doubt), so I figured that a poor girl from Arkansas could achieve great things too.

For me, it is not merely about the music or the dance. It is about what he represented. As my sister so poignantly said, Michael Jackson was like Edward Scissorhands and every great outcast from every fable ever told. The difference is that Michael Jackson lived it, and folks, that takes brass ones, cojones the size of Texas.

That man with a soft-spoken voice instilled in me a desire to live without fear without doubt without compromise. Without his influence and guidance, I would not be me. Without him, my courage may have languished dormant, never having the guts to try. But, today, I most certainly do. What most people fear, what most people call bizarre, I run toward. I’m still on the outside, the fringe, and I plan to stay there, because you know, in the end, those are the ones who make a difference, those are the ones who change the world, those are the ones we notice and remember. Thank you, Michael, for doing your own thing.

Michelle Cushing

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