Millions of people enjoyed Michael Jackson’s genius as a showman, however, his legacy is even greater if we learn from his life story.
During a TV interview, “Living with Michael Jackson,” Michael stated he was beaten by his father. He was so terrified he became physically ill when he saw him. When asked about his mother, he said he could hear her screaming, “Stop you’re going to kill him.”
Physical, mental and sexual child abuse is a family secret that must be exposed. All forms of abuse leave life long scars on victims. I experienced this tragedy within my own family.
To outsiders, my family looked the picture of success. My father was captain of the yacht club and we mingled with the rich and famous. As a small child, my older brother loved to play the piano. At age six, he was composing songs. But my father thought his talent was a curse and berated him, saying, “Only sissy boys play the piano!” He wanted his son to be a man’s man and excel in sports. As a result, my brother’s love of music was beaten out of him. Seeking to break free of controlling men, he ran away from several military schools. At age 19, he escaped by marrying a woman who was 38-years-old. During his life, he married six times and developed serious health problems as he ballooned to 350 pounds. He lived an unfulfilled life and died too soon. My father became an alcoholic and our family fell apart.
As an adult, I learned my father had been a victim of child abuse himself. He was repeating the cycle by abusing his sensitive, creative son. Then later in life, I became aware of the enormity of child abuse when I spent four years volunteering to help the homeless with the Mother Wright Foundation in Oakland, California. I heard horror stories about beatings, incest, molestation and neglect of children at the hands of the people who were supposed to love them. Without guidance and support, many of the homeless had never learned how to handle their emotions, connect with other people and grow strong from within. As victims of abuse, they often turned to drugs to escape their inability to cope with life.
One Saturday while serving lunch in the park, we needed another helper and James, a homeless man, stepped out of the line to volunteer. We got acquainted and during the next month, I learned his methadone drug treatment program was ending. James, who had been abused early in life, didn’t know what to change in order to stay out of prison and he asked for help. Since I didn’t know how to help him, I just listened to his story and offered the motherly advice I had given my own children.
During one of our meetings, James asked if his friends could join us. We talked to a pastor who agreed to let us meet at a nearby church. The meetings were challenging. At the first meeting, twenty men showed up. Some were high on drugs, two fell asleep on the floor and the men were angry and didn’t know how to listen to each other. We set down rules and the group dwindled to a core group of eight. Within three months, four men got jobs and two joined a drug rehab program.
This experience made it clear to me: child abuse is one of the major factors that lead to drug abuse, teen runaways, school dropouts, prostitution, violence and many other destructive behaviors. If the cycle is not broken, it continues with the next generation.
That is not just my opinion. A long-running study on the “Cycle of Violence” by the National Institute of Justice found that “being abused or neglected as a child increased the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59 percent, and an adult by 28 percent, and for a violent crime, by 30 percent.” And that is just one report among many over the years which shows the connection between child abuse and crime – and which demonstrates how the cycle of abuse continues turning in destructive ways in the lives of adults who were mistreated and neglected early in their lives.
This cycle can be stopped and it must be. It is critical that parents and caring adults create circles of support around children to help them grow and learn how to connect with others.
The awesome talent of pop star, Michael Jackson, will be remembered. However, if you listen to his music his dream was to “heal the world” and “bring people together.” His legacy is a message to every parent, love your children and give them the emotional support they need to live a productive life without any fear of abuse.
By Stephanie L. Mann, Crime and Violence Prevention Consultant