R. Kelly as Mearday? Court rally was tragic

First published Aug. 8, 2002: Of all the activities the city has to offer on a beautiful summer morning, why would anyone consider a rally for Kelly, who is charged with 21 counts of child pornography, an appropriate field trip?

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Fans of R. Kelly arrive by bus to show support outside of the Criminal Court at 26th & California on Aug. 7, 2002

Fans of R. Kelly arrive by bus to show support outside of the Criminal Court at 26th & California on Aug. 7, 2002, before a status hearing.

Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

‘Mama, guess where we went today?” a little girl says, holding up a T-shirt with R. Kelly’s face on it. “Where, honey?” her mother responds, not even glancing at her daughter’s keepsake from the day’s outing.

“We went to see R. Kelly,” the little girl exclaims proudly.

That ought to make the mother’s head snap. The only place to see Kelly these days is at the Criminal Courts building. I doubt if any mother—even those who are forced to show up there—consider a visit to 26th and California a cultural excursion.

Although this mother and daughter are fictional, on Wednesday about 50 real children were put on school buses and brought to 26th and California to cheer the R&B superstar at his court appearance.

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The question, of course, is where did these children come from? What parent would allow their children to be in the midst of an episode so foul it has stunk up the music industry from coast to coast?

Janet Edmond, an unknown community organizer until the R. Kelly sex scandal popped up, says she is responsible for busing in the children and their parents to support Kelly.

“They came with their parents,” she told me. “[The media] is making it sound like they robbed the day care center.”

With women tending to them like hens, the children patiently lined the street in front of the Criminal Courts building like fans at a red carpet gala, waiting for Kelly to arrive.

“We love you R. Kelly,” they yelled when Kelly pulled up in his flashy car.

Of all the activities the city has to offer on a beautiful summer morning, why would anyone consider a rally for Kelly, who is charged with 21 counts of child pornography, an appropriate field trip?

I understand the lesson parents are trying to teach when they make their children participate in anti-violence marches and civil rights protests. But as far as I know, Kelly’s civil rights haven’t been violated.

The same probably cannot be said for a lot of other men who went through the throng of protesters. Of the hundreds of black men who stood before judges at the courthouse on Wednesday, some of them probably could legitimately claim that they were picked up by mistake, or tricked, or coerced, or even smacked into making a confession.

Some of them are so estranged from family and friends, not even their mamas showed up in the courtroom.

But a millionaire recording star accused of child pornography can ignite one of the largest protests outside of the Criminal Courts building since the Jeremiah Mearday police brutality trial.

Just goes to show you what fame can buy. Apparently, if you are prominent enough, you, too, can spark your own civil rights protest.

Besides the children, about 150 adult men and women, including 20 members of The Ameri-I-Can Illinois organization also showed up. Initially, protesters on the scene told reporters the children were brought in by Ameri-I-Can, but Kublai Toure, the group’s executive director, denied that claim.

“None of the kids involved are in our program. We used vans and cars, but no buses. We didn’t pay for any buses. We didn’t pay for anything,” Toure said.

“I don’t have any knowledge of where these kids came from,” he said. “I do know a lot of the kids were too young to understand what was going on other than the fact that R. Kelly is an icon. They came to see R. Kelly.”

Too bad they had to see Kelly going up the steps of the Criminal Courts building rather than up the steps to a stage. Then again, I doubt that the same people who made sure the kids made this field trip would have coughed up the cash needed to treat a busload of kids to see Kelly perform at some place like the United Center.

“We brought our children out there because we wanted [the public] to see that we have no fear of R. Kelly being around children whatsoever,” Edmond told me.

“This is so much larger than R. Kelly. Every time there is a role model that someone can look up to, they are torn down. Our kids have nothing to look forward to. A lot of these kids have a sense of hopelessness. That is our real fight, for our children,” she said.

It is tragic that these mothers used children to show their support of an often raunchy entertainer who is now accused of child pornography. I can’t wait to see what will happen when rapper Mystikal, who blew up after recording “Shake Ya Ass,” goes on trial for allegedly raping an acquaintance. The popular artist faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted. Will mothers in Baton Rouge, La., drag their daughters out wearing “Not Guilty” T-shirts as well?

Obviously, these mothers can take their children anywhere they choose. But hopefully, some wise parent may have driven by that circus on Wednesday and seized the moment to teach a child a different lesson.

“Now, you see that?” a father says to his son as he points out the hoopla going on at the Criminal Courts building. “Get an education. There’s a place you don’t want to be.”

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