The recent indictment of R&B star R. Kelly on allegations that he sexually abused minors will show how far the black community has come on this issue.
When Kelly was indicted on 14 counts of child pornography charges nearly 20 years ago, black women and girls lined up to throw stones at his accusers.
The scorn heaped on the women who accused Kelly of sexual abuse was so damaging, many of them — including Kelly’s ex-wife, Andrea Lee — went silent.
It was the silence that brought us to this moment.
It was the silence that allowed for another tape to surface that allegedly shows the popular singer engaging in sex acts with a girl as young as 14 years old.
And it was the silence that gave Kelly the audacity to allegedly repeat the illegal acts that led to his first indictment in 2002 for child pornography.
I can’t even describe the sex acts that are supposedly captured on a videotape that was turned over to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office by Michael Avenatti, a high-profile lawyer representing someone claiming to be an “R. Kelly whistleblower.”
“Today marks a watershed movement in the 25 years of abuse by this predator, R. Kelly,” Avenatti said at a news conference on Friday.
Earlier on Friday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx made good on the promise she made last month to “seek justice” for alleged victims.
“We need actual witnesses and victims to have the courage to tell their stories,” she said.
Foxx, who was also sexually assaulted as a teenager, was reacting to a six-part documentary series, “Surviving R. Kelly,” that aired on the Lifetime channel in January.
The docuseries included several women who alleged they had a sexual relationship with Kelly when they were underage.
Last summer, when I was asked to participate in the project, I had reservations.
Frankly, I didn’t believe the documentary would make a difference because the black community clearly had not yet had enough of R. Kelly.
His music is still the soundtrack of so many joyful moments in black lives — graduations, family reunions, weddings — despite decades of rumors and speculations about Kelly’s preference for underage girls as sex partners.
But the “Surviving R. Kelly” documentary struck a nerve, maybe because it included victims who hadn’t been silenced by settlements or victim-shaming.
And they came together as a group, much like the female gymnasts that exposed the former Michigan State University and USA Olympics doctor Larry Nassar.
Last year, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison for three counts of felony sexual conduct in one Michigan courtroom and was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for seven counts of criminal sexual conduct in another. He had previously been sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges.
Allegations of Nassar’s sexual abuse surfaced as early as 1994, but his victims were not believed.
More than 150 women and girls read impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing in 2018.
Calling themselves “sister survivors,” the victims of the disgraced doctor were honored at the 2018 ESPYS with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
On Friday, Foxx read the indictment against the recording artist known as Robert Kelly, referring to the victims only by their initials.
In total, Kelly will stand trial on 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims, at least three of them minors.
Kelly faces up to seven years on each count.
His attorney, Steve Greenberg, told reporters prosecutors are making Kelly a “sacrificial lamb for their own sake and there’s no merit to any of this.”
I wish that were the case.
But persistent rumors of underage sex and claims by some parents that Kelly was holding their daughters in a “sex cult” could not be ignored.
Frankly, after Kelly was acquitted in 2008, he should have seen it as a sign of God’s amazing grace and gotten some help.
For too long, Kelly has not only benefited from the silence of victims shamed into believing the sexual abuse was somehow their fault, but from the silence of the black community.
For instance, in 2004, after Kelly was charged with child pornography in two states, the oldest civil rights organization in the country, the NAACP nominated him for its coveted Image Award.
Last time around, Kelly entered the Leighton Criminal Courthouse to the shouts of adoring women screaming his name.
I hope this time it is the victims alleging sexual assault who are being embraced, just as Nassar’s victims were.
This is their #MeToo moment.