In the Washington Area, Fans Gather for Michael Jackson Memorial

Locals gather at Sideline Bar & Grill for a Michael Jackson Memorial viewing celebration, sponsored by WKYS. Video by Jennifer Carpenter/The Washington Post
By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

As millions around the world celebrated the life and mourned the loss of music sensation Michael Jackson yesterday, many in the Washington area joined in the tribute.

At the Capitol Hill office of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), staffers looked up from their work to watch the memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on four mounted televisions. At Sidelines restaurant at the Boulevard at Capital Centre in Largo, 150 people gathered to have lunch, mourn and view the televised tribute. Others, like Troy Browne, 17, of Springdale, watched at home while talking to friends or reading postings on Facebook from Jackson fans around the globe.

"I was pretty broken up. This was the first time I actually cried since he passed away," said Browne, who has spent hours watching Jackson's videos and listening to his songs since his death. "Michael Jackson has always been one of my favorite singers. I wasn't born when he was making his albums, but . . . I really was into his music. I wasn't concerned about his personal life. I respected him because he did a lot to help a lot of people."

Fundraiser Princess Gamble, 42, of the District, watched on her computer at the offices of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, while discussing the program with friends on Facebook. "There were comments about the various speakers and depending on the age and cultural background, questions about the significance of the speakers," she said.

The mood was more emotional at Sidelines, where Shanita Washington, 35, a dispatcher from Oxon Hill, could not contain her tears. "I just loved him. I have always loved him and his music," said Washington, who, on the day of Jackson's death, had a picture of the butterfly from his "Invincible" album cover tattooed on her left forearm along with his initials. "I went to every concert, bought every record. I had the red leather jacket. I performed his songs in talent shows. I just can't believe that he's gone."

On-air personalities from WKYS (93.9 FM), which sponsored the event, commiserated with the crowd. DJ Roberto Silva, known as Quick Silva, consoled his wife, Ashley, as she broke down several times during the program.

"I was on the radio when the word came out that Michael Jackson had died, so I was the one who had to tell our listeners," said Silva, 28. "That was the hardest thing I have had to say on the radio. Then I called my wife and, of course, she was crying."

Ashley Silva wiped away tears again yesterday. "Michael Jackson has always been a part of my life," she said. "When my husband and I met, I was 15. The nickname he had for me was 'PYT,' for pretty young thing, a Michael Jackson song."

Veeda Davis, 35, a bartender and secretary from Mitchellville, brought her niece, Shamia Randall, 21, of Landover, and they soon became friends with Shelita McBride, 36, of Alexandria, and her sister Shemeka, 21, of the District, after they were seated at the same table and shared stories about Jackson.

"We had the dolls, the gloves, the jackets," Davis said. "I was about 8 years old when I first heard one of his songs and I loved him after that. We have a very large, loving family, like the Jacksons, and my whole family was into Michael Jackson."

LaVar Arrington, the former Redskins linebacker who owns Sidelines, named Jackson's "Human Nature" as one of his favorite songs. He sang along loudly as the televised event showed guitarist John Mayer playing an instrumental version of the song.

"I have so many memories of Michael Jackson when I was growing up," Arrington said. "I remember my brother Michael and I had the glitter socks. We used to wear them to church. We made sure our pants were high-water enough that people would be sure to see our socks when we sat down. We also had the jackets like Michael Jackson wore in the 'Thriller' video. I remember my brother had the red one and I had to settle for a black one because the red one was too small for me."

For those who had to work, solace was had in the knowledge that their videotape and digital recorders had captured the service.

"I cannot wait to get home to watch it. I will not be working out tonight," said Christine Smith, 43, of Arlington, a mortgage lender. "I have been there watching as he went through every decade. I have always been a huge fan of his music and seeing the way he earned so much love and admiration from around the world."

As he watched at home, Dana Mozie, 45, of Northwest Washington, called a reporter to share his experience of meeting Jackson in 1983. At the time, he was one of several Howard University students who approached Jackson to support a program to spotlight local talent. He agreed, Mozie said.

"Michael Jackson is in the books for being the most charitable entertainer, but a lot of what he did was off the radar," Mozie said. "That's the man a lot of people are mourning, a man who would take time out for others."

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