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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 22:08 GMT
Jackson address: Full text
Thankyou, thankyou dear friends, from the bottom of my heart, for such a loving and spirited welcome, and thankyou, Mr President, for you kind invitation to me which I am so honoured to accept.

I also want to express a special thanks to you Shmuley, who for 11 years served as Rabbi here at Oxford.

You and I have been working so hard to form Heal the Kids, as well as writing our book about childlike qualities, and in all of our efforts you have been such a supportive and loving friend.


I do not claim to have the academic expertise of other speakers who have addressed this hall, just as they could lay little claim at being adept at the moonwalk - and you know, Einstein in particular was really terrible at that

And I would also like to thank Toba Friedman, our director of operations at Heal the Kids, who is returning tonight to the alma mater where she served as a Marshall scholar, as well as Marilyn Piels, another central member of our Heal the Kids team.

I am humbled to be lecturing in a place that has previously been filled by such notable figures as Mother Theresa, Albert Einstein, Ronald Reagan, Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X.

I've even heard that Kermit the Frog has made an appearance here, and I've always felt a kinship with Kermit's message that it's not easy being green.

I'm sure he didn't find it any easier being up here than I do.

As I looked round Oxford today, I couldn't help but be aware of the majesty and grandeur of this great institution, not to mention the brilliance of the great and gifted minds that have roamed these streets for centuries.

The walls of Oxford have not only housed the greatest philosophical and scientific geniuses - they have also ushered forth some of the most cherished creators of children's literature, from JRR Tolkien to CS Lewis.

Today I was allowed to hobble into the dining hall in Christ Church to see Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland immortalised in the stained glass windows.

And even one of my own fellow Americans, the beloved Dr Seuss graced these halls and then went on to leave his mark on the imaginations of millions of children throughout the world.


The cheery five-year-old who belted out Rockin' Robin and Ben to adoring crowds was not indicative of the boy behind the smile

I suppose I should start by listing my qualifications to speak before you this evening.

Friends, I do not claim to have the academic expertise of other speakers who have addressed this hall, just as they could lay little claim at being adept at the moonwalk - and you know, Einstein in particular was really terrible at that.

But I do have a claim to having experienced more places and cultures than most people will ever see.

Human knowledge consists not only of libraries of parchment and ink - it is also comprised of the volumes of knowledge that are written on the human heart, chiselled on the human soul, and engraved on the human psyche.

And friends, I have encountered so much in this relatively short life of mine that I still cannot believe I am only 42.

I often tell Shmuley that in soul years I'm sure that I'm at least 80 - and tonight I even walk like I'm 80.


I come before you less as an icon of pop (whatever that means anyway), and more as an icon of a generation

So please harken to my message, because what I have to tell you tonight can bring healing to humanity and healing to our planet.

Through the grace of God, I have been fortunate to have achieved many of my artistic and professional aspirations realised early in my lifetime.

But these, friends are accomplishments, and accomplishments alone are not synonymous with who I am.

Indeed, the cheery five-year-old who belted out Rockin' Robin and Ben to adoring crowds was not indicative of the boy behind the smile.

Tonight, I come before you less as an icon of pop (whatever that means anyway), and more as an icon of a generation, a generation that no longer knows what it means to be children.

All of us are products of our childhood.

But I am the product of a lack of a childhood, an absence of that precious and wondrous age when we frolic playfully without a care in the world, basking in the adoration of parents and relatives, where our biggest concern is studying for that big spelling test come Monday morning.

Those of you who are familiar with the Jackson Five know that I began performing at the tender age of five and that ever since then, I haven't stopped dancing or singing.

But while performing and making music undoubtedly remain as some of my greatest joys, when I was young I wanted more than anything else to be a typical little boy.

I wanted to build tree houses, have water balloon fights, and play hide and seek with my friends.


When I recently met with Shirley Temple Black, the great child star of the 1930s and 40s, we said nothing to each other at first - we simply cried together

But fate had it otherwise and all I could do was envy the laughter and playtime that seemed to be going on all around me.

There was no respite from my professional life.

But on Sundays I would go Pioneering, the term used for the missionary work that Jehovah's Witnesses do.

And it was then that I was able to see the magic of other people's childhood.

Since I was already a celebrity, I would have to don a disguise of fat suit, wig, beard and glasses and we would spend the day in the suburbs of Southern California, going door-to-door or making the rounds of shopping malls, distributing our Watchtower magazine.

I loved to set foot in all those regular suburban houses and catch sight of the shag rugs and La-Z-Boy armchairs with kids playing Monopoly and grandmas baby-sitting and all those wonderful, ordinary and starry scenes of everyday life.

Many, I know, would argue that these things seem like no big deal. But to me they were mesmerising.

I used to think that I was unique in feeling that I was without a childhood. I beleived that indeed there were only a handful with whom I could share those feelings.


Ours is a generation that has witnessed the abrogation of the parent-child covenant

When I recently met with Shirley Temple Black, the great child star of the 1930s and 40s, we said nothing to each other at first.

We simply cried together, for she could share a pain with me that only others like my close friends Elizabeth Taylor and McCauley Culkin knew.

I do not tell you this to gain your sympathy but to impress upon you my first important point - it is not just Hollywood child stars that have suffered from a non-existent childhood.

Today, it's a universal calamity, a global catastrophe. Childhood has become the great casualty of modern-day living.

All around us we are producing scores of kids who have not had the joy, who have not been accorded the right, who have not been allowed the freedom, or knowing what it's like to be a kid.

Today children are constantly encouraged to grow up faster, as if this period known as childhood is a burdensome stage, to be endured and ushered through, as swiftly as possible.

And on that subject, I am certainly one of the world's greatest experts.

Ours is a generation that has witnessed the abrogation of the parent-child covenant.

Psychologists are publishing libraries of books detailing the destructive effects of denying one's children the unconditional love that is so necessary to the healthy development of their minds and character.

And because of all the neglect, too many of our kids have, essentially, to raise themselves.

They are growing more distant from their parents, grandparents and other family members, as all around us the indestructible bond that once glued together the generations, unravels.

This violation has bred a new generation, Generation O let us call it, that has now picked up the torch from Generation X.


Children have certain inalienable rights, and the gradual erosion of those rights has led to scores of children worldwide being denied the joys and security of childhood

The O stands for a generation that has everything on the outside - wealth, success, fancy clothing and fancy cars, but an aching emptiness on the inside.

That cavity in our chests, that barrenness at our core, that void in our centre is the place where the heart once beat and which love once occupied.

And it's not just the kids who are suffering. It's the parents as well.

For the more we cultivate little adults in kids' bodies, the more removed we ourselves become from our own child-like qualities, and there is so much about being a child that is worth retaining in adult life.

Love, ladies and gentlemen, is the human family's most precious legacy, its richest bequest, its golden inheritance.

And it is a treasure that is handed down from one generation to another.

Previous ages may not have had the wealth we enjoy. Their houses may have lacked electricity, and they squeezed their many kids into small homes without central heating.

But those homes had no darkness, nor were they cold. They were lit bright with the glow of love and they were warmed snugly by the very heat of the human heart.


The right to be read a bedtime story without having to compete with the evening news

Parents, undistracted by the lust for luxury and status, accorded their children primacy in their lives.

As you all know, our two countries broke from each other over what Thomas Jefferson referred to as "certain inalienable rights".

And while we Americans and British might dispute the justice of his claims, what has never been in dispute is that children have certain inalienable rights, and the gradual erosion of those rights has led to scores of children worldwide being denied the joys and security of childhood.

I would therefore like to propose tonight that we instal in every home a Children's Universal Bill of Rights, the tenets of which are:

  • The right to be loved, without having to earn it

  • The right to be protected, without having to deserve it

  • The right to feel valuable, even if you came into the world with nothing

  • The right to be listened to without having to be interesting

  • The right to be read a bedtime story without having to compete with the evening news or EastEnders

  • The right to an education without having to dodge bullets at schools

  • The right to be thought of as adorable (even if you have a face that only a mother could love).

    Friends, the foundation of all human knowledge, the beginning of human consciousness, must be that each and every one of us is an object of love.

    Before you know if you have red hair or brown, before you know if you are black or white, before you know of what religion you are a part, you have to know that you are loved.

    About 12 years ago, when I was just about to start my Bad tour, a little boy came with his parents to visit me at home in California.

    He was dying of cancer and he told me how much he loved my music and me.


    A lot of kids today are hurt puppies who have weaned themselves off the need for love

    His parents told me that he wasn't going to live, that any day he could just go, and I said to him: "Look, I am going to be coming to your town in Kansas to open my tour in three months.

    "I want you to come to the show. I am going to give you this jacket that I wore in one of my videos."

    His eyes lit up and he said: "You are gonna give it to me?" I said "Yeah, but you have to promise that you will wear it to the show."

    I was trying to make him hold on. I said: "When you come to the show I want to see you in this jacket and in this glove" and I gave him one of my rhinestone gloves - and I never usually give the rhinestone gloves away.

    And he was just in heaven. But maybe he was too close to heaven, because when I came to his town, he had already died, and they had buried him in the glove and jacket.

    He was just 10 years old.

    God knows, I know, that he tried his best to hold on. But at least when he died, he knew that he was loved, not only by his parents, but even by me, a near stranger, I also loved him.

    And with all of that love he know that he didn't come into this world alone, and he certainly didn't leave it alone.

    Click here to read the second half of the speech.

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    06 Mar 01 | Entertainment
    Jackson calls for children's rights
    06 Mar 01 | Entertainment
    Jackson address: Continued
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