ON THE PHOTO: I snapped this in Belfast in 2019 and I felt it was important to show you all because of how Leila Khaled looms in the background… fitting considering just how much Michael’s words on Palestine captured the public recently. The video, all of 6 minutes, highlighted his huge talent and spirit, explaining with nuance, passion and empathy how he saw things. Most of all he was able to draw our attention to what really matters, clarifying without simplifying and pointing us in an actionable direction. Plus, I love how being dripped out in his Adidas makes him look like he was born in this city.
20-7-21: In the direct aftermath of Michael’s passing I found my grief hard to process and it wasn’t until I sat down and wrote what follows (on the 23rd July 2020, a birthday gift to myself) that I could even begin to get a handle on it (my unending love to those who supported me at the time and helped me to shape this message, you all know who you are). I haven’t been able to watch, listen or read much of Michael’s work as the loss is still raw and bitterly palpable. While the pain remains, there is also extreme levels of gratitude to Lisha and Donna for their time, care and love, to all of Michael’s loved ones and to the huge following he left behind. I hope in making this public is that those who read can find something to take away in this message, most important of which that we honour Michael by carrying his life’s work forward, because it is needed now more than ever.
23-7-20: The passing of Michael Brooks on the 20st of July 2020 was akin to natural disaster. A tectonic plate shifted somewhere under New York, but the ground shook all around the world, rattling those who knew him. Even those who didn’t were struck with the same pain, despair and anger — that’s how great the damage was. The collective grief has cut deep and wide, and no matter how unerring the tributes have been, they can never do Michael justice. He was a uniquely talented person who could have easily been a stand-out stand-up comedian, a full-time writer of books and op-eds and much more. But it wasn’t these skills that drew people to him — it was what he did with them.
Michael was loved not just because he was hilarious, witty and smart, but because he committed these talents to making the world a better place. He was loved because instead of engaging in an economic system that would have paid him handsomely for his qualities, he took aim at it, constantly berating it for preying on the most vulnerable and leaving billions in misery. In a world where morally bankrupt charlatans run cover for a political-economic system that undermines our physical and mental well-being while running roughshod over the planet, Michael stood against it all. Michael was loved because he did the impossible, somehow creating almost complete congruence within himself despite all the pathologies that blight the human condition. He revelled in the complexity of humans, using it to explore and add nuance to his emotional, spiritual and intellectual self. Michael melded contradictions into his own beautiful tapestry: spiritualism with secular politics, cheeky and profane but always kind, an unparalleled work ethic that never stopped him from connecting meaningfully with the world around him.
And after he did all the hard work internally, he displayed it to the rest of us, on mic and off. Diving into a complex political issue, Michael would intentionally seek the nuance that had been eschewed in the mainstream narrative to better understand and empathize, but he could always resurface in time to summarise it for us with clarity and compassion. Michael was loved because he stood in complete contrast to this era of disingenuity and performativity, acted out at the high level of politics, producing fascism, wokeism masquerading as social justice and sophist intellectualism that upholds it all. Michael was honest. There was no performance. Ever. If you listened to him, you came to share his values and if you shared his values, he made you feel loved.
Above all, Michael was loved because he himself loved, and deeply. His dedication to empathy drove him to seek meaningful connections, spiritual and emotional, with all those he met. It explains why days after his death, despite only calling him a friend a few years, tears remain wholly uncontrollable. Michael and I were born a month and the Atlantic ocean apart. He grew up hard in the early 1980s, without guaranteed food or shelter as neoliberalism was put on global steroids, only increasing disparity and inequality. At the same time, I was growing up a child of Belfast and Beirut, two cities which at the time were shorthand for death and misery. When we met years later, we connected over our mutual fight against the false narrative of objectivity, understanding that humans are contextually driven creatures, products of their history, cultural signifiers, and political conditions, all of which are in constant flux. Michael had spent decades reading, thinking, listening and contemplating, preparing himself to take up the fight to ensure no one else suffered what he did. He saw my commitment to tackling those made vulnerable by systemic violence in fragile states as a kindred drive.
When I saw the family of collaborators and friends he brought together for his show, I saw I wasn’t the only one. They all shared a passion for their work that went beyond a professional expertise. As the host, Michael valued their journeys — not how many journals they have published in. He collected a range of collaborators in a truly cosmopolitan enterprise that covered all aspects of our shared humanity, enlightening anyone who listened. He used the show as his chessboard, debating, moving, engaging, and ultimately placing the right pieces in the right spots to understand systems of inequality and how to unravel them.
Despite being the brightest star, Michael never let anyone feel that they were orbiting him. Instead, he placed you in the centre of his universe when he talked to you, encouraged you, advised you, consoled you and above all, let you know he loved and appreciated you. As someone who is open with my battles with depression, a malady supported by an unhealthy dose of imposter syndrome, my natural tendency is to doubt, fear and self-sabotage. Michael never accepted that. Using his expert ability to cut-to-the-quick, he helped create bridges for me, moving me into action with a purpose to amplify and strengthen my inner voice. When those demons began to whisper their doubt, he would be there, in his unmistakable tone: ‘what’s going on brother?’
The death of this man brought agony, shock and grief shared between intellectual icons, freedom fighters and former presidents. Little did we know it, but he had been painstakingly building this unified humanity every day of his life, connecting us all through his compassion. It was only in his death that we could show him what he had done. In my own abject grief, listening to the stories of those who never got to meet him allowed me to at least be grateful I got to welcome him into my home, to introduce him to my family and loved ones. I wish his journey hadn’t ended so prematurely, but through tear-filled eyes I see the beauty in what he created, a shared connection between people spanning the globe. His creation is so strong that I have received messages from strangers with whom I have no connection other than Michael, asking for stories of his life.
I write this not because I want condolences for my loss — that love should be funnelled directly to his family and closest loved ones. I write this because his loss is of a magnitude that is barely comprehensible and my hope is to distil what made him special in a way he’d hopefully be proud of. In a year where the world has seemingly entered an apotheosis, we lost one of the best defenders of justice and equality. Michael is irreplaceable, but his commitment to empathy and protection for all continues through us. Abandoning it now would only disrespect his memory and life’s work. Fate called time for Michael, and now he watches on, leaving each one of us as a custodian of his message of love and understanding. Rest in power paisan.
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