Empowering Healing in Community: Reflections on the Oprah Winfrey Special on Leaving Neverland


by Howard Fradkin, Ph.D.

Healing is infinitely accentuated when done in community. On Wednesday, February 28th, Oprah Winfrey once again empowered an entire community of survivors, their families and allies, as we sat together to tape a special show, “After Neverland.” That show aired on the OWN network 10 pm Monday, March 4th, following the airing of the documentary “Leaving Neverland” on HBO and OWN on Sunday and Monday evenings.  It will be re-aired on FaceBook Watch March 10th and on the OWN podcast: “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations.”

The taping of the show was made much more special for me because of a number of WOR alumni (at least 10 I know of) who were in the audience, including Anthony E, who was also featured on the show talking about his own abuse. Anthony is a Guest House alum. All of you who attended did so with very short notice (a few days) and I greatly appreciate you making that extra commitment to take at least one whole day off of work to be present. You came from Canada and all the way from the west coast, as well as close by to NYC.  I will include a couple pictures sent to me by a couple of the guys. Even though I am now a Facilitator Emeritus, I want all of you who have attended a weekend I was honored to be a part of to know that the gifts you shared with the team and I are a large part of what fuels my passion to keep speaking OUR truth about abuse, grooming, the impact of abuse, and how to heal. So whether you were in the audience or not, know that your spirit, your wisdom, and your commitments to your own journey of healing inspired me during the taping.

As most of you know, Oprah chose me to be the expert guest for the 200 Men shows which aired in November, 2010. That was not only a life-changing moment for me, it was a life-changing moment for the male survivor movement.  It was Oprah’s stated wish then that those two programs would help open the doors to men everywhere to feel safe enough and empowered enough to speak their truths. After the shows aired, the WOR program was consistently filled to capacity for a number of years, as more and more of you felt more free to reach out for the help you needed and deserved.  Many of you left the weekends, and either joined a support group in your community or started a group in your community to continue the healing process and spread the impact of the weekends. That explosion of healing energy all over the US and Canada made and continues to make a significant difference when men find the courage to ask for help.

Being invited to be a part of “After Neverland” was also a great honor. I knew how important it was to help Oprah and the audience to understand how Michael Jackson (and many other perpetrators) refined the skill of grooming to such a level of perfection that he ensnared not only James and Wade, but also both of their families as well. It was important to emphasize how Michael had convinced them what he was doing to them were acts of love, and nothing else, and what a horrendous destructive lie that was. It was important to emphasize how terrified they were to speak their truth, and how Michael as part of his grooming had taught them to be loyal to dysfunction, his dysfunctional thinking and behaving. I talked about how he had convinced them they were responsible for his well-being and happiness, and how they could destroy him by speaking their truth. Most of you know my mantra: Healing is the process of learning to be disloyal to dysfunction and loyal to functionality. I talked about how Oprah, James and Wade, and the film’s director, Dan Reed, who also was on stage, had by the making of the documentary and the taping of this show demonstrated perfectly the steps of learning to be loyal to functionality. Like many of you, Wade and James first believed that what Michael was doing to them was not abuse, but love, and therefore no matter how uncomfortable it was, it was love, they were special, and that was all that was important.

The power of how destructive secrets are is a key part of the documentary and the Oprah show, both for James and Wade, as well as their family members.  Each of you, as an alumus of the WORs, knows the power of breaking your silence and speaking your story to a room of people who believe you and support you. That to me was one of the most moving parts of the day, when at the very end, Wade and James told us how deeply they were moved by the love and support we shared with them as a community of survivors. Real healing took place for them, and I am sure, for many in the room, and by extension, for all who have the opportunity to watch the documentary and the show.