How STRONG Black women put an end to R. Kelly's 'violence, cruelty and control'

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Pedo Jackson

Jul 2, 2022, 12:17:21 AM7/2/22
After decades of accusations that he sexually abused young Black
women and girls, R&B singer and songwriter R. Kelly has finally
been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. The sentence comes
after Kelly was convicted nine months ago on one count of
racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which
makes it a crime to transport people across state lines "for any
immoral purpose." Kelly used his fame and wealth to lure
underage girls into his orbit, isolate them from their families
and control and abuse them. During his sentencing hearing
Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnelly summed up the
argument that Black women activists have been making for more
than a decade: “This case is not about sex. It’s about violence
and cruelty and control,” Donnelly said. “You left in your wake
a trail of broken lives.”

While it’s appropriate to commend federal prosecutors in the
Eastern District of New York for bringing charges that resulted
in a conviction, make no mistake: Black women activists should
be credited and thanked for pressuring the music industry to
stop protecting Kelly and for opening our eyes about his long,
sordid history of abuse against Black girls. The 55-year-old
Kelly, who didn’t speak during the sentencing hearing, could
spend the remainder of his life behind bars — a reality that
didn’t even seem imaginable 10 years ago.

Some of the girls that Kelly targeted are now able to witness
his personal and professional demise. His sentence leaves him
unable to inflict damage on new victims. Some of those survivors
held hands and prayed during his sentencing, showing Kelly that
while he harmed those girls, they’re now women whom he couldn’t

“I started this journey 30 years ago,” Jovante Cunningham, one
of Kelly’s former backup singers, said after the hearing. “There
wasn’t a day in my life up until this moment that I actually
believed that the judicial system would come through for Black
and brown girls. I stand here very proud of my judicial system,
very proud of my fellow survivors and very pleased with the

Kelly isn’t facing such a reckoning because people finally began
caring about the harm Black girls experienced. It's because
Black women — including Kelly’s former background singer
Sparkle, journalist Jamilah Lemieux, writer Mikki Kendall,
filmmaker dream hampton and activist Tarana Burke, to name a few
— continued to sound the alarm, even when it was costly and
dangerous to do so. I first became aware of Kelly’s history of
ensnaring underage Black girls in his abusive trap about 10
years ago. When I wrote about it, tweeted about it and even
spoke with my family about it, I was met with escalating
hostility that eventually resulted in my being doxxed. Few
wanted to admit that their favorite R&B singer was capable of
being a predator. They chose instead to see him as just another
powerful Black man being targeted because he’s rich and famous.
Besides, they argued, why were those “fast” girls chasing after
a grown man? Where were their parents?

Kelly escaped accountability for as long as he did because our
culture adultifies Black girls, that is, it treats them as if
they’re grown long before they are. At the same time, that
culture insulates Black men from responsibility for their
abuses. Similar arguments have been used when other Black men
have been accused of harming women: Whether it's Supreme Court
Justice Clarence Thomas or Mike Tyson or Bill Cosby, Black women
who come forward are treated as if their being vocal about their
mistreatment is as much a sin as the abuse they endured. They’re
treated as an equal partner in their own violation. Our cultural
impulse to disbelieve Black women allowed Kelly to operate for
more than 25 years with few repercussions.

It's not as if Kelly’s defenders didn’t know of the repeated
accusations against him. After all, his secret marriage to R&B
prodigy Aaliyah, who was 15 when he was 27, was exposed in 1994.
(There’s now an open federal investigation linked to that short-
lived union.) Journalist Jim DeRogatis has been chronicling
Kelly’s crimes since the early 2000s. He broke the news of the
sex tape that prosecutors said showed the singer performing sex
acts on a teenage girl and led to Kelly being charged in 2003
with 14 counts of child pornography. But the girl who
prosecutors say was in the video refused to testify, and Kelly
was found not guilty in 2008. Later in 2008, in an on-camera
interview, journalist Touré asked Kelly, who was then 41, if he
liked teenage girls. Kelly replied, “How old are we talking?”

Three years before his acquittal in that sex-tape case, a 2005
episode of Cartoon Network’s “The Boondocks” predicted he
wouldn’t be convicted with an episode about R. Kelly standing
trial for urinating on an underage girl. After a prosecutor
presents a spirited case that proves Kelly’s guilt, his defense
attorney simply turns on Kelly’s music and everyone begins
dancing, forgetting that they’d just been shown evidence that he
harmed a teenager.

Even after he was convicted in October on those nine counts that
led to him being sentenced Wednesday, his streaming numbers
jumped 500 percent.

That willingness to ignore predatory behavior continued for more
than 20 years. He still released music and toured to sold-out
crowds. He still penned songs for other artists. He still
accrued wealth and influence. And activists continued to call
attention to his pattern of dating and abusing underage Black

In 2018, DeRogatis reported that Kelly was being accused of
running a cult by the parents of a young woman living at his
home. Three other women who’d been in Kelly’s inner circle told
DeRogatis that there were six women living in properties rented
by Kelly and that he was controlling “what they eat, how they
dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in
sexual encounters that he records.”

That’s when Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Barnes created the
#MuteRKelly movement to encourage a boycott of Kelly’s music. “I
have been hearing about R. Kelly’s sexual abuse of young black
women since I was in my teens,” Odeleye told The Grio. “Someone
had to stand up for Black women, and if I wasn’t willing to do
my part — no matter how small — then I couldn’t continue to
complain. It’s time for us to end this man’s career.”

dream hampton’s docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly,” turned the
tide by making it impossible to turn away. Black women sharing,
in their own words, what Kelly had done to them did something
that nothing else could: It made people more empathetic to their
plight. If it weren’t for their fortitude and their insistence
that justice be done, Kelly would still be seeking new girls to

His indiscretions against Black girls, many of whom are
impoverished, weren’t unknown. We knew what he was doing; some
people just didn’t care because of who his victims were. While
it seems as if the entire world has turned on the singer now,
there was a time when Black girls weren’t considered worthy of
being defended. Yes, Kelly is now incarcerated, but it’s past
time to ensure that all Black girls are protected. The Black
women who made sure Kelly was held responsible are the
lighthouses we need to show us the way.

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