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I spent the last two evenings watching Lifetime’s documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Watch it now.
I was in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago at the time his infamous “pee tape” became famous. I remember people in my classes telling me, through hushed whispers and giggles, that R. Kelly likes to pick up underage girls at the Rock and Roll McDonald's downtown and then film himself peeing on them. It was because of this tape that he went to trial on child pornography charges in the early 2000s. He was acquitted. After his acquittal, I dismissed the rumors as gossip, but always felt a little suspicious about R. Kelly. I mean you can only hear those rumors about someone for so long before you wonder if there is any truth to them.
Teachers are Trained, Mandated Reporters on Abuse
As teachers, we hear gossip all the time. We are trained to notice signs of abuse, bullying, and neglect. Part of our job is to know when to investigate, and when to shut rumors down. What really disturbed me about this documentary was how widely known these rumors were throughout Chicagoland. I mean, people were talking about it everywhere! Multiple people in the documentary said that he would hang out outside his former south side high school, Kenwood, and just wait for the dismissal bell so he could pick up young girls. It was a well-known fact.
He was also a regular spectator at one of his underage girls’ basketball games in Oak Park. My first reaction was, where were the teachers? Coaches? Counselors? Other parents? Chicago Police Department? Why wasn’t anyone alarmed that a grown man was in a school, courting a 14-year-old girl? Why didn’t any adult step in? I know that when I have bus duty at my middle school, I interrogate every single adult within walking distance of the students who does not have a District ID on. Every. Single. One.
So.. what the heck went wrong?
As the documentary points out, R.Kelly was reported. Multiple different times, by multiple different people. The important question to ask is, how has this abuse continued?
When Harvey Weinstein had over 80 women come forward with accusations of sexual assault against him, his punishment was swift and quick. Within weeks of the allegations, he was fired from his company and publicly disgraced from Hollywood. So, why has it taken over twenty years for people to act on behalf of the women R. Kelly has abused?
The System Doesn't Value Accusations From All Women
The rapper known as Common, also a Chicago native and also appearing in the documentary, answers that question perfectly in a recent TMZ interview. He says, “If it wasn’t just black women who R. Kelly had been molesting and abusing — if it wasn’t just black women — he would have been attacked by the system in a different way. Meaning, the system doesn’t have a value for black women the way they do white women or other nationalities.”
As teachers, we need to think about this and how it may affect the young ladies in our classrooms. The reality of R. Kelly’s abuse, and the fact that nothing was done for his victims- for decades- says something about how our society values black women and children. This can’t be denied, ignored, or brushed off any longer. If we are to truly educate, inspire, and advocate for all our students, then we have a lot of work to do. This documentary proves that.
In a recent NPR article, #Me Too founder, Tarana Burke explains, “We have seen 24 years of allegations leveled against R. Kelly, and he has gone unscathed...Those things have to be interrogated. And I think at the very least we need to see corporations step away from them until we have a satisfactory investigation into these allegations."
Hopefully, this is a start in the much-needed silencing of R. Kelly.
Jerkovich, Katie. “Superstar Rapper Says He Failed Alleged R. Kelly Survivors: 'We Failed Our Communities'.” The Daily Caller, Link
Tsioulcas, Anastasia. “#MeToo Founder Tarana Burke Responds To R. Kelly.” NPR, NPR, 1 May 2018, Link