On Sunday August 26, The Commons Community Development Corporation, along Washington Park Conservancy held it’s 4th Annual tribute to Michael Jackson, and his musical legacy. Over the years, the Newark chapter of the Michael Jackson has made Washington Park the official location for his annual birthday celebration. As a result of the cancellation of Spike Lees MJ tribute in Brooklyn, Newark became the go-to destination for hundreds of die-hard Michael fans.
The event began with a stellar performance from Jessie Daniels of the 80’s band the Forced MD’s. Though best known for the band’s #1 hit, “Love is a House,” its lead singer donned full MJ regalia for Sunday’s event. From curly wig to glitter socks, Daniels energized the audience with a medley of Michael’s greatest hits. His enthusiasm set the tone for the fiercely competitive “Move Like Mike” contest, which attracted over 20 impersonators, dancers, groups, and singers that had previously participated included local, national and international showcases. The final round consisted of a dance-off between 5 performers: Sean Vezina, Lamar Coleman, Domique Wilson, Zakay Paterson, and Henri Barnes. Though the audience succeeded in narrowing the group down to three contestants, the immense talent on stage made it impossible to bestow the honor of best impersonator upon just one competitor. Ultimately the final three shared the hard-won victory with one another.
Also notable were the young entertainers in the competition who embodied the enthusiasm of the next generation of Michael fans. Twelve-year-old Jahmir Battle, who first performed at the 2010 MJ tribute, kicked-off the live band performance with his rendition of “I’ll be there.” Little “Micah” Brace, who participated in the tribute at the tender age of five, performed “Thriller,” brought the audience to unyielding applause.
Dominique Wilson, one of the winning finalists, shared that she’d been selected by the Jackson family to perform on Michael’s official birthday celebration in Gary, Indiana. Regarding the distinction of being the only female dancer to be featured during the event, Ms. Wilson said, “This is a great honor, and I feel privileged to represent the city of Newark.”
Rivaling the energy and showmanship of the on-stage performers were the throngs of attendees assembled in Washington Park. Whether clad in bedazzled gloves, challenging one another’s moon-walks or simply singing along to their favorite MJ hits, the attendees were just as committed to showing their love and appreciation for Michael’s trademark moves and his contribution to music history. Surely, the famed humanitarian would have been moved by the event’s success in drawing together a crowd so diverse in age, race and cultural background.
Swaying, stomping and sashaying together to MJ’s “Rock with You” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” allowed all of us to indulge once more in what is perhaps the most enduring aspect of Michael’s legacy: the experience of letting the music melt away our differences. For a brief moment, grooving to “The Way You Make Me Feel” made us feel like we were once again in the presence of the King, one of the few places where we could transcend our divisions and dance side by side. Clustered within the expanse of grass and gravel between the Washington Park Light Rail Station and the majestic architecture of the Newark Public Library, we transformed our humble park into a makeshift Neverland ranch that would have made the pop culture legend himself proud.
If you’re kicking yourself for having missed this momentous occasion, “You Are Not Alone.” An encore Michael tribute will be held today during “the W@W Wednesday at Washington Park” music series’ regular lunchtime hours.