*The CNN breaking news alert that popped up on my Blackberry on Thursday, June 25th at 2:20 p.m. is something I will never forget. It read:

Pop singer Michael Jackson has suffered cardiac arrest.

The flurry of breaking news alerts and text messages and emails that followed were as frenetic and chaotic as those typically dispatched during an emergency such as a catastrophic earthquake or a Category 5 hurricane.

When his death was confirmed, it felt like a catastrophic event had just taken place. And I just like so many, had to take a moment to wrap my mind around the loss of such a musical genius and the void it would leave in us all.

Michael’s songs were part of the sound track of my life. When I was having a moment dealing with life’s struggle, I would often fall back on my favorite MJ ballad, “You Are Not Alone.” (A bit of trivial here: this was the first song in the history of Billboard Magazine’s Top 100 List to debut at number one.)

I grew up with MJ. I became conscious listening to his heart-felt songs. The maturity of his lyrics made me along with every other starry-eyed young girl fall deeply in love with him.

Who could forget the 1969 appearance of the Jackson 5 on the Ed Sullivan Show? Oh my God it was spellbinding. It was a commanding and brilliant performance by the strikingly handsome young man flanked by his equally handsome brothers.

What made this an unforgettable moment for me was not only that he was black just like me, he embodied what Donny Hathaway said was “to be young, gifted and black.” For me he was a symbol of someone who held promise for the future as Donny’s song said we all did. At that moment Michael and the Jackson 5 were that promise incarnate. It was undeniable and it made me proud and incredibly hopeful that the world view and future of black folks would shift for the better now that the pathway had been illuminated by this young, gifted and black rising star.

As his celebrity catapulted into the stratosphere specifically after the “Thriller” album, which by the way turned the music industry up-side-down, I began to identify less and less with him. His physical transformation dimmed the affinity that bound him to me or to us as a people. He became a pop icon; he belonged to the world, boundaries that transcended the block, the avenue and the district.

But that didn’t eclipse his musical genius. In my mind his music became personified, its own entity, separate and apart from the man, his public struggles, failed marriages, scandals and litigious existence. But one thing that never got lost in the morass of the rumors and controversy that surrounded his life was his gentle spirit and philanthropy. I think these two attributes were at the core of what truly defined him.

The distinction that he held as a father is what I identified with in my later years because I am a parent too. At the end of the day a parent who loves their child will protect them by any means necessary.  Michael was no exception. And upon his passing, the thought of his children growing up without their father brought a flood of tears to my eyes.

The numerous tributes to MJ have been comforting and fitting, particularly the musical tribute on local radio station KJLH in Los Angeles. Their play list took  me back and made me “Remember the Time” when I feel in love, had my children, struggled to travail over  disappointment and  the moments  I danced up in the club  with unbridled fervor until my hair got nappy.

I was struck by the audio portion of MJ’s last interview with Ebony Magazine by Bryan Monroe, editorial director at Johnson Publishing Company. Michael said,
“I always wanted to create music that influences and inspires people. You want what you create to live,” said Michael. “I know the creator will go but his work survives,” Michael continued quoting Italian painter Michelangelo. “That is why to escape death I attempt to bind my soul to my work.”    And he did bind his soul to his music. May his voice R.I.P (Reign In Perpetuity).

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