R. Kelly’s claim of illiteracy raises more questions than it explains

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R. Kelly walks into the Daley Center in Chicago for a hearing in a child support case. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

I can still recall the joy I felt the day when letters on the page became words and the words became a sentence.

So I can’t even imagine what it feels like to be unable to read.

Reading was among the first things I taught my own children and among the first things they taught their children.

My own mother, having been deprived of an opportunity to stay in school, was unable to read for much of her early adult life. My father, also forced to give up school at an early age, taught himself to read by picking up discarded books and newspapers.

I can still see him sitting in a recliner, a cigar in his mouth, carefully going through the evening paper.

For me, reading wasn’t just about learning, it was a passport to travel beyond the boundaries of my impoverished community.

You can be born with amazing talents, but if you can’t read, you’re walking around blind without a guide.

Frankly, it is miraculous that R&B superstar R. Kelly, who claims to be unable to read, wrote songs for superstars like Michael Jackson (“You Are Not Alone”) Britney Spears (“Outrageous”) and Whitney Houston (“I Look To You”). He also wrote and recorded songs that became classics — “I Believe I Can Fly” and “The World’s Greatest.”

But his image as a superstar is severely tarnished.

After the release of a documentary alleging Kelly molested underage girls, the singer was charged criminally in Cook County with 10 counts of sexual abuse.

He is also being sued in civil court on allegations that he sexually abused another woman when she was underage.

The embattled singer didn’t show up for a hearing in that case and his lawyers told the court he missed the hearing because he can’t read.

“The Defendant suffers from a learning disability that adversely affects his ability to read,” his lawyers said in a court filing.

Approximately 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read and write according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy.

These Americans struggle daily with basic tasks, such as grocery shopping, paying bills and understanding instructions.

So how has Kelly, who claims he can’t read, made millions writing lyrics and producing chart-topping music?

Kelly has never answered that question.

But in 2009, after he had been acquitted on child molestation charges, Kelly told “The Boombox” website this:

“I don’t even read really and I’m not afraid to say that. My cousins and brothers used to tease me ‘You can’t even read right. How you think you’re going to come up?’ The only reason I graduated from grammar school is because I had a great jump shot. I went to high school and [my teacher told me ‘You will [be] one of the greatest writers of all time.’ I believed.”

She should have told him to learn how to read. And, hopefully, the grammar school Kelly attended is closed.

Because if Kelly never learned how to read as he says, these educators didn’t do him any favors by passing him along instead of helping him to access the resources he needed to overcome his learning disability.

And he’s not alone.

About 20 percent of high school grads haven’t developed basic reading proficiency by the time they walk across the stage, and 70 percent of inmates score at the lowest proficiency level for reading according to an article posted on “CreditDonkey.”

Likely due to issues related to literacy, Kelly is fighting to survive a financial mess that is threatening to send him back to singing on subway platforms.

Kelly’s ex-wife, Andrea Lee, had to sue him for back child support, and a fan had to post the $100,000 bail money he needed to get out of jail on the sex abuse charges.

In an explosive interview with Gayle King that aired on CBS in March, Kelly, 52, claimed he had gone to the bank for the first time and discovered he only had $350,000 in the bank.

He told King he went alone because he was tired of not knowing where his money is.

“[T]he songs I’ve written are songs that can handle settlements and everything else,” he said.

If Kelly’s lawyers are planning on floating Kelly’s “learning disability” as a defense, they’ll have a lot of explaining to do.

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