What About All the Other R. Kellys? I Knew Many Growing Up | Opinion

Amidst all the turmoil, there was some good news this week: Robert Kelly got sentenced to 30 years for racketeering and sex trafficking. It was long overdue, to my mind. R. Kelly's preference for underage girls was the biggest open secret I knew growing up in Chicago. For far too long, he was defended by apologists of one form or another. I remember hearing DJs saying things like "Well, Kells likes 'em young" back in the 90s over Chicago airwaves. The docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" explored how far parents and relatives were willing to go to make what he was doing to girls okay. And of course, we've all seen the Chappelle Show sketch and the Boondocks episode, cultural touchstones that made comedy out of the allegations and all but erased the victims. I remember thinking no one would post R. Kelly's $100,000 dollar bail back in 2019. They did.

But R. Kelly didn't just have defenders. He had clones. They were hiding in plain sight in the hood. And their victims will not get justice because a cloak of silence and a cape of acceptance all too often shield sexual predators.

I remember when my mother slapped me across the face when I told her that her boyfriend was molesting his nieces and nephews. I was afraid I'd be next. "You shut your goddamn lying mouth!" my mother screamed when I told her what was happening. "He's a man of God! I know you don't like him, but don't lie."

Alex Miller
The author, Alex Miller, as a child. He grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes on the South Side of Chicago.

Mom's taste in men was abysmal. If I tried to stand up to any of them, I'd get knocked down. And I saw a lot of them. My mother didn't send me to school until I was 11. When you're a Black kid from Chicago's projects, truancy officers never come looking for you.

I also saw other things, like the tall, muscular, light-skinned brother who looked like LL Cool J. It was said he could get any woman he wanted, but chose kids. He got my brother, who then did the only thing he could to protect me: He made sure I was never alone around Lafayette. He never told me why until I was older.

There was also a pastor, a man of God, who set up a boarding house in suburban Chicago for homeless, troubled youth who he'd pick up from the famous Pacific Garden Mission. Dozens of boys were brutally raped by him. My brother later told me that he and many of his close friends were among them.

There always seemed to be an "uncle" or "mother's old friend from high school," who was diving into little girls' beds. These R. Kellys were the open-secret. The closed-secret was how many boys were being taken advantage of.

My heart hurts for my community.

For every Black woman who reports that she was raped, there are 15 who don't. 40 percent of confirmed sex trafficking survivors were Black. Close to 60 percent of Black women are molested by the time they turn 18.

How to address this tragedy in our community?

R. Kelly
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JUNE 26: R&B singer R. Kelly leaves the Leighton Criminal Courts Building following a hearing on June 26, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Prosecutors turned over to Kelly's defense team a DVD that alleges to show Kelly having sex with an underage girl in the 1990s. Kelly has been charged with multiple sex crimes involving four women, three of whom were underage at the time of the alleged encounters. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ebony Butler, a Black psychologist, created My Therapy Cards, a tool by which African American women can reduce the stigma of talking about stress, mental illness, abuse, and suicide, through the use of self-actualization cards.

Black Men Heal, started in 2018 by Tasnim Sulaiman, a licensed professional counselor and family and marriage therapist, gives free therapy sessions and even helps get Black men certified as therapists. Sulaiman said that she started the organization because of the seeming "war against Black men in this country." Ultimately, Black Men Heal was founded because of the lack of resources dedicated specifically to men of color, amidst a society hellbent on seeing us fail.

As it stands, only 5.4 percent of the physicians nationwide identify as Black. Educating and hiring more African American medical professionals who won't write off Blacks as just another number would be a great way to put in motion a system of change.

Our fraught relationship with America has resulted in the tension that so many of us felt over R. Kelly. How could we champion sending another Black man to prison when the state has imprisoned so many unjustly?

And yet, his victims were also Black. They were ours. Don't they deserve justice? Don't all the boys and girls whose abusers continue to roam free?

We never started out on equal footing. I'm writing this article right now because most of America doesn't understand or even care about our plight.

R. Kelly had friends. Some of them still at work in the industry. What happens next? We need help, America. What will you do about it?

Alex Miller has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Independent, and is also featured in the anthologies "The Byline Bible" and "The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook."

The views in this article are the writer's own.