The R. Kelly Verdict: Yes, Black Girls’ Lives Matter Too
At last, Black girls’ lives matter too.
That was my response to the news that Chicago-born R&B star singer, songwriter and producer R. Kelly had been convicted Monday in New York.
The federal jury convicted Robert Sylvester Kelly, 54, of federal racketeering and sex trafficking charges in connection with a decadeslong scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sex. One of the biggest names in popular music could face decades in prison.
That conviction itself was a breakthrough. Kelly had been beating back various civil charges alleging illicit sex with minors since 1997 and criminal charges since 2002.
After being kept in suspense for so many years only to have it all end with either relief or disappointment, depending on whose side they were on, my Chicago friends and relatives had begun to throw their hands up in frustration or relief, depending on whether they believed the charges.
I was hearing so many people say there was no way that Kelly, with all his money and clout, would ever be convicted that I had begun to believe it too.
But it turns out the culture has changed — and not just in Chicago.
In January 2019 “Surviving R. Kelly,” a Lifetime documentary detailing sexual abuse allegations against the singer, aired over three nights. Suddenly the public’s focus was shifted from Kelly to the other key figures in this morbid sage: the alleged victims.
“I want to believe that this means Black women survivors will be heard,” tweeted Dream Hampton, the film’s executive producer, “but I don’t want it to be dependent on a piece of media going viral.”
Indeed, there were a lot of pieces of media going viral. Music journalist Jim DeRogatis first wrote about accusations of R. Kelly’s sexual relationships with teenage girls in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000. Two years later, he broke the story of the incriminating sex tape that would lead to Kelly’s first court case.