Parents, Don’t Compromise Your Instincts for Your Child’s “Dream”: Reflections of Surviving R. Kelly Documentary-Series

If you weren’t completely riveted by the information detailed throughout the Lifetime Network’s six-part documentary-series, Surviving R. Kelly, then I’d assume you may be probably void of human feelings.

As Lifetime Network’s website states:

In the ground-breaking documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” women are emerging from the shadows and uniting their voices to share their stories. Celebrated as one of the greatest R&B singers of all time, R. Kelly’s genre defining career and playboy lifestyle has been riddled with rumors of abuse, predatory behavior, and pedophilia. Despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses, to date, none of these accusations have seemingly affected him. For the first time ever, survivors and people from R. Kelly’s inner circle, are coming forward with new allegations about his sexual, mental, and physical abuse. They are now finally ready to share their full story and shed light on the secret life the public has never seen.

Given my obsession with documentaries as well as the music and styles of 90s culture, I was eager to view the series.  And while I had definitely been familiar with some of the content shown throughout the series, because I am now much older, this time, the context was different.

During the three days the docu-series aired, I found my mind in a race of thoughts.  I found myself holding my breath during segments, not truly realizing this until I felt myself let out a relieving exhale.  And I couldn’t wait to further breakdown what I had witnessed with a few close friends who viewed the series; I was eager to hear their takeaways from the series.

And while each of the six parts left me with a sense of shock, sadness, frustration, even nostalgia (just from music and images), it truly was not until parts five and six that I began to feel the worst.  Because up until the final night of viewing, each young lady involved, while they shared they were being “controlled” in some form, there always seemed to be the opportunity to leave and return to their home/families.  

But with the introduction of the parents, things began to become more real for me because

  1. These incidents were more recent and
  2. I, too, am a parent and an educator of young children.

Each time that black screen appeared and a new woman or child was introduced, my anxiety and discomfort soared.

And as it related to the parents’ testimonies, helplessness was what I felt most.  It is very important for me to avoid being judgemental, but my one takeaway was the need to ensure parents are not so enthralled in their children accomplishing their perceived dreams that they ignore possibly clear signs of danger. The thought of not seeing or hearing from my child for three years is unimaginable, and now, an adult at 20 years of age, the Clary family reported this to be their reality after allowing their daughter, Azriel to seek mentorship from R.Kelly after, from their own words, several red flags. While they never blatantly said they may have been too eager and maybe didn’t use their best judgment when it came to ensuring their daughter(s) had been safe, it was certainly obvious.

The Clary family, unfortunately, chose to ignore R. Kelly’s past association with predatory behavior along with their own incidents of concern according to their own timeline of events:

  1. Brought Azriel to R. Kelly concert at age 17 and allowed her to be called on stage by the singer to participate in his show.  Was led off stage via backstage exit where contact information was then exchanged.
  2. Shortly after the first encounter, daughter went missing and was eventually located in a hotel with R. Kelly “auditioning”
  3. Parents allowed both Azriel and their older daughter to visit R. Kelly in Chicago for Azriel’s artist development.
  4. Azriel’s older sister, while she initially reported withholding SOME information for fear of her family being harmed, revealed to her parents her own experience and concerns of safety for Azriel
  5. The Clary’s continued to allow Azriel to work with R. Kelly under the guise that he would provide a woman from the record label to serve as her mentor to ensure her schooling, etc. remained a priority.

By this time, Azriel had turned 18 and was an adult, so her decisions were her own.

And while I’ve heard some say their focus was one of greed, but based on the home videos made available of Azriel performing, and beautifully I may add, I choose to consider that these parents just wanted their daughter to be happy.

Watching those parents reach out to the Chicago PD for a wellness check within R. Kelly brick fortress of a studio, only to be told they had no ground to break down the door to enter and seeing them throw rocks at windows covered with iron bars, was just too much to handle.

So many times I thought about the regret that I KNOW they had; hindsight is always clearer.

So many times I thought about how many arguments they probably had amongst themselves about who was more responsible for this outcome. So many times I thought about the nightmares, the tears, and the sheer helplessness. So many times I considered the plight of wanting nothing more than for your children to see the manifestation of their dreams, but in this current world of instant gratification, overexposure and quick rise to celebrity, the likelihood to lose sight, is real. Too real.

It is beyond critical that we as caregivers and parents maintain a vigil watch on the influences of those we were put here to protect. One statement made by the Clary family that stood out to me was made by Azriel’s mother who shared that Azriel would “make her little threats” which basically forced her parents to go along with her desires to work with R. Kelly for fear of their daughter’s reaction.  As caregivers and parents, we have to be willing take on the wrath of our children’s anger and disappointment based on our keeping them safe then to face the danger that is breeding out in the world. Because while the world and dangerous individuals can sort through and select from a multitude of expendable victims, our children are indispensable. And while they may not understand it at the moment, it is up to us to do our absolute best to maintain their safety as they navigate this often cold and cruel world.

Click here for resources from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Click here for resources to prevent violence against women.

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