October 6, 2021
One of the biggest names in R&B music, Robert Sylvester Kelly (known to most of the world as R. Kelly) was convicted for sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, racketeering and sex trafficking involving five victims on Monday, Sep. 25.
A jury of seven men and five women found the singer guilty. He faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
This isn’t the first time Kelly has been in court. However, through decades of allegations against young black women, it is only recently that real action has been taken.
In 2008, he sat before a trial about child pornography charges and was acquitted. In February 2019, Kelly was indicted by the Illinois state attorney for aggravated criminal sexual abuse against four victims (three of whom were minors). In August 2019, he was charged in Minnesota with engaging in prostitution with a minor.
Gloria Allred, a lawyer for some of Kelly’s accusers and victims, said to reporters outside the courthouse on Sep. 25 that of all the predators she’s gone after — a list that includes people like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein — “Mr. Kelly is the worst.”
Though the verdict officially came that Monday, allegations of Kelly’s assaults can be dated back to the early 1990s—three whole decades before his conviction. In 1994, when he was 27 years old, Kelly illegally married the late R&B singer Aaliyah when she was only 15, falsely listing that she was 18 on the wedding certificate.
Kelly wrote and produced Aaliyah’s 1994 debut album, called “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.”
And, despite an arrest in 2002 and an accusation of recording himself sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, Kelly’s songs and concert tickets kept selling.
“As a society, all races and ethnicities included, we excuse behavior as long as we are getting something from it,” said Alexis John (‘24). “R. Kelly hands us hits and we hand him our children.”
In July 2017, a protest campaign against the singer called “Mute R. Kelly” was created by Atlanta Arts Administrator, Oronike Odeley, who soon after partnered with Kenyette Barnes. The movement called for boycotts of the singer and his performances as well as for music streaming platforms to stop playing Kelly’s music.
“We will continue to disrupt, continue to demonstrate, continue to call him out, continue to raise awareness until hopefully one day soon, we can step in the name of justice at his trial,” said Odeley on the “Mute R. Kelly” website, paraphrasing Kelly’s own lyrics.
The singer’s years of abuse became a signifier of the “#MeToo” movement, and the popular docuseries finally gave a voice to those victims that had been previously ignored. Some speculate this is because Kelly’s victims consisted of young black women.
“The abuse of children of color is something that is not uncommon in my community but is heavily overlooked,” said John. “During the #MeToo movement I saw an immense number of white women on the news and barely any women of color. As a young woman of color, myself, this left an impression on me. We see it in the lack of coverage for the Native children missing, for the black girls whose bodies we find nothing beyond an Instagram story.”
It wasn’t until the docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” debuted on Netflix in January 2019 and acclimated 1.9 million total viewers that the allegations finally started to come to real attention.
“Natasha Hooper gives a great spoken word poem titled “The Pied Piper” about R. Kelly,” said John. “She ends it with this: ‘tell me, is the music really that special when one man’s voice can sing over them all? When we can hold a note but can’t hold a man accountable? When the Pied Piper is realer than any folk tale we know, and we surrender their bodies to pay the price?’”
Kelly’s sentencing is scheduled for May 4, 2021.