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#MuteRKelly: Survivors, Family Members Seek Justice for Black Girls Preyed on by R&B Star

Web ExclusiveJanuary 07, 2019
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Image Credit: Surviving R. Kelly

We look at the damning 6-hour documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” which follows two decades of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against the celebrated R&B singer and producer. R. Kelly has been accused of abuse, predatory behavior and pedophilia throughout his career but has avoided criminal conviction despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses. In a web exclusive conversation, we speak with Angelo Clary, whose daughter Azriel Clary met R. Kelly at the age of 17 and moved in with him with hopes of advancing her music career. He hasn’t seen her in almost four years. We also speak with Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of #MuteRKelly—a campaign to end R. Kelly’s music career—and an Atlanta-based arts administrator.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Part 2 of our look at the shocking Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly. The six-part documentary, which just aired over three nights and will continue to be available online and on video on demand, chronicles two decades of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against the celebrated R&B singer, producer R. Kelly, Robert Kelly. He’s been accused of abuse, predatory behavior, pedophilia, throughout his career. But despite damning evidence and multiple witnesses, R. Kelly has been able to avoid criminal conviction, though he has gone to trial. He was acquitted.

We’re speaking to Angelo Clary, the father of Azriel Clary, who met R. Kelly at the age of 17 and moved in with him with hopes of advancing her music career. He hasn’t seen her in almost four years.

Also with us, Oronike Odeleye, who is founder of the #MuteRKelly movement, the MuteRKelly campaign.

Angelo Clary, in Part 1, you described your daughter going, not—unbeknownst to you, instead of to school, to meet with R. Kelly, after a concert, and you went to the hotel, and you were able to bring—have your daughter brought down from his room, where she had just had sexual intercourse with him. She was 17 years old. Talk about what happened next. This was years ago.

ANGELO CLARY: Next would be this—you know, we didn’t know. You know, after we found out—it was 2016, you know, when all the allegations hit, everything started coming out. We already knew about R. Kelly. The difference with my situation—and I take responsibility for my daughter’s action—is me allowing her to be around a guy like him and thinking that it wouldn’t happen to me.

Me, as a father, I felt I’ll take responsibility as failing my daughter because I wanted to see her, her career, go to the next level, which we—you know, we was pushing that anyway. But to look a man in the face and you hear these allegations and you know yourself as a man, you kind of say, “OK, this can’t happen to me.” And I looked at this man, and, you know, we talked about my daughter’s career, him writing a song, me paying him—no money from him at all—where everybody in the world keep thinking it’s all this money. I’d just like to know where, as I think I still—my daughter still wear things that I bought her to the day. So, you know, it got from a man looking at another man about business to something totally different in his eyes.

The sad part was I got tricked, and I failed my daughter by being tricked and trusting that I set her up and instilled a certain set of skills in her that I thought that she would be able to maintain while she was in an entertainment world. And even though we tried to set up family members to be beside her and this and that, I underestimated the personal texts, the this, the things that we had no clue about. And I think that’s what made me be so hard on myself about this, that you can never underestimate a man that’s a predator, that prey on certain things, because they go to a degree that you really can’t fathom if you’re not a person that has that type of lust. So, what I’m looking at is a talented young woman that got her parents right there, so this man is not going to try me, especially me. This is not going to happen to me. And boy, was I wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Angelo Clary, I want to—

And now I have to sit here—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from Surviving R. Kelly, the documentary series, that features your daughter Aiceis She explains what happened when she visited Azriel in Chicago.

AICEIS CLARY: Azriel and I arranged for me to go to Chicago, and I was supposed to stay for about a month or two. But when I got out there, it wasn’t what Azriel made it to be. Nor him, R. Kelly.

Some driver picked me up. We went to the studio. And we’re sitting in there. He’s making music. He spoke to me: “Hey, Aiceis.” You know, it was cool at first. But Azriel made it to be like she could go places, she could do things. We couldn’t do nothing. She couldn’t walk out the room without calling R. Kelly. It was all about what R. Kelly wanted.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Angelo Clary, that’s your daughter Aiceis talking about visiting your daughter Azriel. You claim that she is now part of a sex cult around R. Kelly. You claim she’s being held. This is certainly not something your daughter Azriel says. When was the last time you saw her and communicated with her?

ANGELO CLARY: My daughter Aiceis said it. When she called us and with the alarming story about how they was living and the things that was going on, we immediately booked flights and was up there the next day. We heard a horrible situation. We left everything. We was there in probably about the next 10 hours, me and my wife.

We got to the hotel. We arranged to have a meeting with him and our daughter to be over there. We went where Azriel was at. Azriel had left at that time. When she came back over there, we had Azriel and my daughter Aiceis. We spoke with him, R. Kelly. He explained—you know, he downplayed whatever was going on. My daughter Aiceis wasn’t saying the same thing that she was saying on the phone. She just wanted to leave. She wanted a different room.

So, we made everything happen that night, before we got there. And it was kind of like, “What’s going on?” And all I know is my daughter wanted us to get out of Chicago, fast. And I was like, you know, “What’s going on?” I kept asking her. She never commented or gave me any bad vibes that something was wrong. She just wanted to leave. And I talked to Azriel, and they downplayed it. And Aiceis went along with it.

And then, it wasn’t 'til later on, when we got back home, and I think a while later, she finally came up and told us exactly why she said it, that he had threatened us. He had threatened to do something to Azriel. He had threatened to do something to her parents. And, you know, I'm baffled. I’m sitting there, my daughter, looking at her like, “What? So, why didn’t you tell me while we was face to face?” And she was like, “Dad, you don’t understand. These guys took me in trucks. They did this. They did that.” And I guess when people have power, you can make your atmosphere look as dangerous as you possibly can to somebody that’s not used to that type of environment, where people are just overly aggressive at a drop of a dime, you know, by his call. So, I could see her holding and not telling me and hoping that her family is safe.

But after that, it was a bad situation. And, I mean, Azriel was turning 18, so, at that point, we couldn’t—we couldn’t just make her come home. She had just turned 18, so we couldn’t make her come home. Then, when she finally came home, it was during her graduation. And then, you know, her and Aiceis had a talk. They talked about it. And they yelled about it and everything else.

And, I mean, it was just a sad situation to know somebody would threaten your child with the life of her parents or her sister, because she’s there. So if this is what he did to my oldest daughter, then only imagine what he could be doing or saying to my daughter.

So, when you’ve got these girls coming up and speaking on his behalf, and people saying, “Oh, they’re not held, they’re not this,” well, I ain’t seen my daughter in three years. And guess what, I don’t see nobody walking around with pictures of her. We hired an investigator. I couldn’t get any pictures of her. So, I’d like to know, if you’re not held, how did you disconnect from your family every one of these young ladies that this man deal with—disconnect from their family. How can every one of them have nobody in their family that they love, that one person that they’ve got to see in their family?

And the world want to believe that it’s nothing wrong with him, it’s nothing wrong with the situation. It’s everything is the girls, the families, this is the money. Where? Where?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to—

ANGELO CLARY: I think the real question is—

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip—


AMY GOODMAN: —from the docuseries Surviving R. Kelly. This is Timothy Savage, who alleges, like you, Angelo, that his daughter, Joycelyn, is being held against her will by R. Kelly.

TIMOTHY SAVAGE: And then we got a call from her, and she told us that she was with R. Kelly. We was like, “What are you doing? You’re in college. We had this discussion. I thought you was headed in a direction that you wanted to go in.” And she told me that she didn’t know what she wanted to do at that point.

Weeks went by. No answers. It was like a dead silence tone when I called. It’s been over almost two years now, and we still haven’t seen our daughter.

AMY GOODMAN: So, now I want to go to Joycelyn Savage herself, being interviewed by TMZ. Savage denies allegations that R. Kelly is holding her and other women against their will. And then she’s followed by Michelle Kramer, who spotted her daughter, Dominique Gardner, standing with Joycelyn.

TMZ INTERVIEWER: You stand by your word, you know, R. Kelly’s not holding any women hostage or doesn’t have a sex cult?

JOYCELYN SAVAGE: No, none of that is true. None of that’s true. All that is false accusations. You know, people talk all the time. You know, it’s just rumors. … Yeah, I’m out here in L.A., you know, just vacationing, and he’s in Chicago.

TMZ INTERVIEWER: Oh, cool, you’re doing your own thing right now.

JOYCELYN SAVAGE: Mm-hmm, yeah, doing my own thing.

MICHELLE KRAMER: When I saw the TMZ video, I looked over, and it was my daughter Dominique. She was very unrecognizable, because how her hair was, and she was all tattooed up. So, I could see they was in Beverly Hills, and I just put two and two together that that’s probably where she’s staying. So, I spoke with the producers, because I was already coming to L.A. to do the documentary. And so, I convinced them to take me to Beverly Hills to locate my daughter.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Michelle Kramer, mother of Dominique Gardner, who had been with R. Kelly for nine years. Kramer later tracks down Dominique and convinces her to leave R. Kelly. I wanted to go back to Oronike Odeleye, a co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign. Can you talk about these stories, Angelo’s case, with his daughter Azriel, as well as the Savage family and others that you’ve heard about?

ORONIKE ODELEYE: Well, they’re so heartbreaking. And, I mean, it was so—even though, you know, I’ve known these details for a while, it was really heartbreaking to see these families, who haven’t, to this day, seen their daughter in years.

And I think Mr. Clary is right. Like, you know, if they’re not being held against their will, then why aren’t they on Instagram and Facebook? Why aren’t there pictures of them shopping at the mall? Why has nobody seen them? You know, why are they not talking to anyone in their families? Why can’t you call them? Why can’t you text them? There’s no way that any young person in this world today, with access to a cellphone, you know, who is not being controlled in some way, is not going to be living their life out in the public. And so, I think that, you know, he is very right. They are being held. They are being manipulated.

I think when we say “against someone’s will,” we’re thinking that they’re being held in chains. But mental chains are just as strong as physical chains. And when you have groomed someone from the time they’re 17—you know, now we’re talking many years later—they’ve been living this and hearing from this man, hearing him in their head for the past three, four, five years. You know, Dominique was with him for nine years. At such an important time in the development of their sense of self, of who they are, of what is normal, of what a sexual relationship is, then, you know, he has molded them into what he wants them to be.

And, I mean, it’s a sad, a sad—a sad situation. But what makes me think most of all is, you know, there’s the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, we were that village, and we failed those children. We were the village who saw who R. Kelly was 25 years ago, and we all stood around and did nothing to stop him. And so, he has had free rein in our community of our young women.

And, you know, as much as the parents want to take this on, of course, you know, and they feel like they’ve failed their daughters, we failed their daughters, too, because we kept buying that music, and we kept going to those concerts, and we were outside his trial saying, “Oh, he’s innocent,” and we’re all lying, saying, “We’re taking a black man down,” and all the other things that have made it possible for him to operate this long. And so, we, as a village, should also feel that sense of shame and guilt, because we failed all of those girls. You know, just as much as R. Kelly and his entourage and the people that have helped him are guilty, we are guilty, as well. We are guilty as a community. And if we do not step up right now and decide that, you know, we might have missed it in the past but we see it plain and clear now and we’re all going to take a stand, then we will continue to fail our young black women, as he continues to do what he’s been doing for decades.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2018, Time’s Up joined the call to #MuteRKelly, your campaign. In response, a representative for R. Kelly said in a statement, “R. Kelly’s music is a part of American and African-American culture that should never—and will never—be silenced. Since America was born, black men and women have been lynched for having sex or for being accused of it. We will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man who has made extraordinary contributions to our culture.” Oronike Odeleye, can you respond?

ORONIKE ODELEYE: Well, that quote was both laughable and infuriating. One, to call on the image of lynching, which is such an hot-button issue in the African-American community and brings up such strong emotions, was insulting, because so many black men and black women were lynched in protection of their family and in protection of their community. These are people who were trying to protect, you know, their wives and daughters and nieces and cousins and family members, who were lynched. People were lynched for trying to protect their community, not preying upon it. So he’s not being lynched.

There’s a quote that, you know, if it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth. I can’t lynch anybody with their own truth. We can’t bring down somebody with their truth. Your truth will either lift you up or destroy you. And now we’re just bringing his truth to light. If it destroys him, that’s on him.

So, it was, I thought, a smart move on a PR level, because when you invoke those images, you know, African Americans have a kind of a gut reaction to it, and we go, “Yeah, we don’t want to see a black man lynched.” But that’s not what this is. You know, every black man in the news who has a controversy against him is not Medgar Evers, is not Martin Luther King, is not somebody we need to be out here marching for and supporting. R. Kelly is somebody that, in house, we should have taken care of a long time ago. You know, this is our internal business. I mean, as a community, we should have came together and dealt with that man a long time ago so that it didn’t go this far. So, I mean, I just thought that that was insulting of his team to try to invoke that image when we’re talking about what’s going on with him.

AMY GOODMAN: And Angelo’s point about if these were white girls, if these were white teenagers, if these were white young women, whether people would pay more attention, Oronike?

ORONIKE ODELEYE: I think that’s true, in the sense that the news media would have picked this up a long time ago. Part of the problem was, these girls were yelling out into the void, and the media was ignoring it. And without the media, how are we able to spread the information about what’s going on?

You know, I’ve gotten so many messages from people since the documentary like “I had no idea.” They knew about Aaliyah, because that was big news. And they knew about the sex tape, you know, forever ago, because that was big news. But in between, they’ve heard nothing.

And if this was, you know, dozens and dozens of young white girls and their families in front of the news, this definitely would have made, you know, headline. I also think it’s true that if his victims were boys, if they were black boys, the African-American community would have rose up decades ago to put an end to it. I think it is uniquely young black women that we feel are disposable in our community and that we don’t have to step up and protect. And that’s a shame, and that needs to change.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain your campaign, the #MuteRKelly campaign. In the documentary series, we see—we hear radio station after radio station has pledged not to play R. Kelly’s music. How extensive is this?

ORONIKE ODELEYE: Well, the great thing about this campaign, I mean, in its kind of structure, there are two of us—you know, it’s myself and Kenyette Tisha Barnes‏—but as it’s a viral campaign, it belongs to the entire community.

So, we put out calls, every time he’s performing somewhere or any time someone sends us a tip, that, hey, if you’re in this city and you want to stage a protest, we will help you. We will give you the talking points. We will give you the kind of step-by-step instructions about how you would launch a #MuteRKelly campaign in your town.

And they’ve been very successful. We’ve been able to get many of his concerts canceled. We’ve been able to get many radio stations to say they’re not going to play him. We were successful for a moment in getting Spotify and some of the other streaming stations to take him off, before they buckled under pressure and put him back on. So, I mean, it’s very extensive.

You know, we have gotten a million emails and text messages so far about his next show, which is coming up in Germany. And we’ve already gotten German allies there who said that they’re going to help work with us to get that canceled. So, it’s very extensive.

We are serious about stopping the financial support of R. Kelly, period. So, wherever he’s performing, wherever we hear, we are going to do our best to get it canceled, to bring a negative attention to it. And it’s been working, and he’s been feeling the pressure from it.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, let me ask you about this series and the significance of it. I want to put this question to you, Oronike, and then to Angelo, reaching a wider audience. The executive producer of the series, dream hampton, told the Detroit Free Press, it was “incredibly difficult to get people who had collaborated [artistically] with Kelly to come forward.” She said, “We asked Lady Gaga. We asked Erykah Badu. We asked Celine Dion. We asked Jay-Z. We asked Dave Chappelle. (They’re) people who have been critical of him. That makes John Legend even more of a hero for me,” hampton said. John Legend, who’s in the documentary. Also, Chance the Rapper collaborated with Kelly on “Somewhere in Paradise,” appeared in his “Backyard Party” video, said in an interview featured in the final episode of the documentary that working with Kelly was a mistake.

ORONIKE ODELEYE: Well, I’m, you know, very grateful to artists like John Legend and some of the other celebrities who have come out in condemnation publicly of R. Kelly. That’s very important. Part of our whole aim was to kind of break down this wall of silence that surrounds him, because there’s no way for anybody to molest young women as extensively and for as long as he has without a network of enablers around him who allow him to do it. And those include people in the music industry. So, to have people come out publicly and say that, you know, they denounce him and they denounce what he’s doing is important.

But I also understand that there are many connections in the music industry that we don’t necessarily see as consumers. You know, R. Kelly has started many people in their careers. R. Kelly has written songs for lots and lots of folks. He has produced people. And on the outside, he is a charming, nice, fun guy. And that may be the only way they know him, as a talented, charming guy in their same industry. And so they don’t feel comfortable, for a myriad of reasons, saying anything publicly.

But we know, because we also have connections through this campaign in the industry, that a lot of the longtime artists who have worked with him now won’t return his phone calls. He had features set up that they have canceled. They’re not working with him. He’s a hot potato right now in the industry and has expressed how disappointed he is in some of what he thought were his longtime friends now not dealing with him. So, even though they might not be publicly saying, you know, what we’d like them to say, privately, they’re doing what we want them to do. And that’s no longer working with him, no longer promoting him and isolating him, so that we can kind of break this down and get him to justice.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end with another clip from Surviving R. Kelly and then get each of your comments. This is #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, followed by Mikki Kendall, co-founder of hoodfeminism.

TARANA BURKE: These families came forward and were making desperate pleas to get their children back, to get their daughters back home and away from R. Kelly. We’ve been watching them since they came forward in 2017, tried various attempts to get media attention, but it doesn’t take hold. And again, I think that goes back into this idea that black girls don’t matter. They don’t matter enough. And it’s proven over and over again.

MIKKI KENDALL: We still socially don’t perceive young black women as innocent, as deserving of protection. Somehow, it’s their fault. When the reality is that the problem isn’t the girls; the problem is the predators.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get final comments from each of you. Angelo Clary, father of Azriel Clary, you haven’t seen your daughter in years. What you want to share with this global audience?

ANGELO CLARY: What I want to share is, people that don’t have all the facts and don’t know how to weigh in, and they’re just reaching out to people with rage, anger and humiliation, you know, understand that these are human beings. Understand I’m a father. You know, I have six children. Azriel is my baby, my youngest child. I have no reason to sit on here to plea with the world my case, because I’m not more of a public-type person, or nor is my family. But to the world, I plea that y’all at least start researching. Do your facts. If everything add up to the same thing, then use common sense to notice it has to be a problem. And the problem don’t come from these young girls. And for all the fathers out there and mothers, I’m just telling you it happened to me, and it’s a lot of R. Kellys out here. It’s just not him. It don’t stop with him. It won’t finish with him. And protect your children. You know, protect your children by all costs. Be open. You know, talk to them. Stay in contact. Because this is something that I could never, ever imagine that me or my family would ever, ever go through.

AMY GOODMAN: Oronike, your final thoughts?

ORONIKE ODELEYE: I would say that, you know, if you watch the documentary, if you’ve done some research online and you are enraged, frustrated, as I was when I first learned about these latest allegations, to do something. And that something doesn’t have to be huge. It can be as small as telling the DJ at the club to turn it off when he plays R. Kelly. It’s letting your wedding planner know there is to be no R. Kelly. It’s, you know, in the barber shop, when people bring it up and they want to start victim blaming, it’s to step up and say something.

I think that it is important, like Mr. Clary said, that we realize that it’s not just about R. Kelly. This is a rampant problem in the community. And we need to change and shift the way we talk about it, if we want to make change and protect our children. You know, there is no way to be with a child 24 hours a day. We’ve got to get the predators from out of our community, so that we’re not so worried about our children falling into their traps.

You know, if you want to get involved in the#MuteRKelly movement, you can find us online. We’re on Instagram. We’re on Facebook. We have a website. And we have listed many ways that you can help. But do something about it. It’s not enough to be outraged. We’ve got to turn that outrage into action. If we really want to create a safe space for children in the world, we’ve got to do something about it. And it has to be more than just being online and saying that it’s terrible. It has to translate into action.

So, I would just say to everybody, do something about this. Call your radio station and tell them to stop playing R. Kelly. Thumb him down on Spotify and all the other streaming stations. Write in to them. You know, do whatever it is you can do from wherever it is you are to help these families get their daughters back, because this is something that no parent should have to go through. And it’s something that none of these girls deserved. And we, as a community, need to step up. We failed them in the past, but we need to step up now and do what we can to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Oronike Odeleye, co-founder of the #MuteRKelly campaign, Atlanta-based arts administrator, and thank you to Angelo Clary in Las Vegas, the father of Azriel Clary, who met R. Kelly at the age of 17 and moved in with him with hopes of advancing her music career. He hasn’t seen her in almost four years.

This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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