The six-part Surviving R. Kelly docu-series that aired on Lifetime this past week has been a ratings gem for the network. The intense series dug into the embattled singer’s thirty-year career and personal life to uncover a world of pedophilia, family crisis and celebrity manipulation. So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA), as a resource for parents, educators and those who work with youth, wanted to engage in the conversation that the series has sparked. So, we have created a series ourselves that is called “Surviving the R. Kelly Docu-Series”. Each article will be a Q & A with an expert or a conversation between educators or parents about ways to talk with young people about sexual predators and other pertinent points that are often overlooked or negated from the narratives we share with our children and youth.
This first conversation is between two educators who did not know each other previously. Candace Montague is a freelance writer who has bylines that have appeared in numerous spaces including the Washington Post and Washington City Paper. While she is committed to covering health issues as a writer, she is also an educator and parent. Colette Williams is a long-time educator who has worked as an early child-hood educator as well as a teacher with children with special needs.
SOYA: Did you watch the Surviving R. Kelly docu-series?
SOYA: Why did you choose to watch?
Colette: I had been following the family speaking out about their daughter Jocelyn. I have been hoping and praying that someone gets him off the streets. I also know that his controlling behavior is something that many women experience.
Candace: Well I grew up listening to his music. In my later years I heard the allegations against him. I’m sure it took the survivors a lot of courage to speak up. I had to hear what the survivors wanted to say.
SOYA: What were some of your thoughts about R. Kelly before you watched the series?
Candace: I’ll be honest. I had no idea what to expect. The people I follow on social media who had been involved with the project in some way had warned us that it would be hard to watch. I braced myself for the worst and that’s what I got.
Colette: I think he is very sick. He is a man who was abused as a child and who had insecurities as a child due to his inability to read. He needed someone to talk to. He needed help as a child. I feel compassion for the child in him, but the child grew up and turned into a monster. I have enjoyed his music, and I thought he was very talented. However, I was never overly impressed with him.
SOYA: Were you ever a fan?
Candace: Absolutely! He owned the 90s and that was some of the best days of my life. I had a few of his CDs and even went to see him in concert. I loved his music. I always thought he was a songwriting WHIZ!
Colette: Nope. Can’t say I was a fan, but I did love his “Trapped In The Closet “series. I thought it was creative and funny at first, and then I got tired of it. I also loved his song “I Believe I Can Fly”. He just always seemed kinda country. He always seemed like a bamma to me, but I did think he was mad talented.
SOYA: If you watched it, were there some triggering elements in the series that you didn’t expect to be triggered by? If so, which ones?
Candace: I wasn’t necessarily triggered by anything because I am not an abuse survivor. However, I was deeply disturbed by the part when the producers took one of his survivors back to the house where they lived. She was so upset and triggered. That made my blood boil.
Colette: I was definitely triggered, and I cried myself to sleep after the last episode understanding that there were several young women still in there with him. I prayed for them and cried for them. I was never sexually abused, but I am a survivor of emotional and verbal abuse. The doc helped me to see that it’s something you learn to live with, but you never get over or maybe I should say it takes way longer to get over than I thought. You have to do work to heal. I thought I was over it a long time ago, but there is a rage and a pain that still comes up sometimes. It was very upsetting, especially because the girls are so young. I was 15 when my family was exposed to an abuser.
SOYA: What is your professional opinion regarding the prevalence of this type of behavior (sexual predation) in our community and its impact on young people growing into adulthood?
Candace: As a high school teacher I would say this type of behavior is much more prevalent than we think. But I also think that it has always been around: we just haven’t put it in the spotlight. I have a few friends who were courted by older men in high school. I was too. Times haven’t changed much and I believe it’s getting worse with technology we have available to us. I think the impact this behavior has on our young girls and boys is outstanding (in a negative way). I believe that sexual predation has a profound effect on young people. It creates all kinds of emotional scars and robs them of their innocence. As a result we have a lot more damaged girls coming up and becoming adults struggling with something that was done to them. It just isn’t fair.
Colette: I think that it’s more common than we think, and that parents have to protect their children and be cognizant of how their own behavior can affect their children. It’s sexual abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and when someone is abused and they don’t get some sort of support, I think it is not uncommon for them to find themselves repeating that cycle as an abuser or a victim. This is a very serious topic that needs to be addressed in our community.
SOYA: As a teacher, has this series about R. Kelly prompted you to modify or consider something you need to add to your practice as an educator?
Candace: I am tempted to say more to my female students but I proceed with caution. We live in such a hypersensitive world these days. One statement given in earnest can be twisted into something bad. Parents don’t welcome your opinions like they used to in the old days. Now they want you to mind your damn business. I understand. I am much more protective of the girls but that was before the series. If I see a boy getting too touchy with her in my presence I put a stop to it immediately.
Colette: I work with young children-4 and 5 year olds. We have been doing work around empathy for awhile now. We have been working on helping our students see that there are consequences for their behavior and that their behavior can hurt others. We also encourage our students to stand up for themselves and share their feelings. I also try to be sensitive around them giving each other space and respecting each other’s space. The doc just solidified how important this work is.
SOYA: How do you think this series has helped (or hurt) the conversation regarding predatory behavior on young people within our community?
Candace: I have seen some UGLY discussions about this topic but I believe, ultimately, this is a good thing for the culture. We need to confront this issue and talk to our children about it. No more hiding. No more closets. Discussions makes us more aware of how our actions or our inertia can impact a child’s life forever.
Colette: Not sure how much it has helped. I hope that it helps people share their stories and find healing, and I hope that it opens a discussion between Black men and women around these issues. I was very disturbed by brothers who I considered conscious come out and find some way to mention R. Kelly being persecuted because he is Black. That was extremely disturbing. It helped me see how persecuted many of our men feel. They feel so defensive that they cannot wholeheartedly defend and support Black women. That hurt.
SOYA: What do you think needs to happen (or happen more often) regarding justice and advocacy for Black victims of rape and sexual assault?
Candace: Oh, we DEFINITELY need a better reporting system for victims. It seems like when a victim reports an assault that they will be interrogated and stigmatized. They have the burden of proof pushed on them. In some ways I get it because you have a small amount of false accusations being thrown at men but I strongly believe that every accuser should get the respect of an investigation at best. We also need better sex education. The “fast girls” narrative has to stop. Girls have hormones like boys do and they rage the same. We need to teach them about how normal that is and how to handle their emotions in a safe way. Stop laughing off boys who lose their virginity at an early age. We need to teach boys how NOT to rape a girl.
Colette: We need to talk about this stuff. Conversations need to be had in the churches, in the community centers, in homes. Therapists/counselors need to be involved in the community providing support where needed. The village must protect our children. Social services in the state of MD. clearly states that if you don’t report suspected abuse you can face consequences as well. This is stressed in Prince Georges County schools in Maryland. It needs to be stressed some more. What was most horrific about this story was that there were so many around R. Kelly who turned a blind eye to what was going on. This has to change, and it can change with a grassroots effort. After all, grassroots is how #METOO started.
SOYA: What do you recommend for families watching this together?
Candace: TALK ABOUT IT WITH YOUR KIDS!! And I mean you girls and boys. Teach the girls what to look for. Teach your boys what not to do. It’s not a guaranteed safety net but if they don’t even know what to look for they could be the next unexpecting victim.
Colette: There are so many things to discuss here.
- We need to make sure that our children have a good sense of themselves, and we need to talk to them about fame and or status. We need to have a good sense of what money, fame, and status mean to our children. They need to understand that all that glitters is not gold. Discussions around character need to be had.
- We need to have discussions about being able to talk to one another honestly, so that everyone is safe. Young people need to feel like they can share and talk to you
- We need to talk to our boys and girls about loving and respecting themselves, and having goals and dreams of their own that are not attached to anyone else.
- We need to talk about sex and be open about it. Our young people-most importantly our girls need to know that their body is their own.
- We need to talk to boys and girls, but particularly boys about finding confidence in themselves without exerting control over others.
What are your thoughts? Add them in the comment section below and join the conversation…
Colette Williams is an Early Childhood Educator in Maryland who is also a performing artist and children’s author known as Colie Aziza. Follow her Twitter @olsoul
Candace Montague is a freelance writer who is also an educator in Maryland. Follow her on Twitter @urbanbushwoman9
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is the founder of So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA) and is a multi-media strategist and professional creative who has built an expansive interdisciplinary career as a professional in higher education, media, student development and the arts. She is also a homeschooling mom. Her new children’s book Mariah’s Maracas is now on sale.