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#MeToo Founder Tarana Burke Responds To R. Kelly

May 1, 2018
Originally published on May 3, 2018 1:29 pm

Activists have been trying since last summer to get the music industry to sever its ties to R&B singer R. Kelly, following years of allegations from women who say the singer sexually and emotionally abused them.

Over the past year, families of several women have come forward accusing him of keeping their loved ones as sex slaves; just two weeks ago, the attorney of one woman presented evidence to the Dallas County district attorney's office in the hopes of generating an indictment.

Jerhonda Pace, who met the singer when she was 15 and is now in her twenties, described her experiences on the talk show The Real last September. "He would slap you in your face, and he would physically like harm you," Pace said. "He would put you in a room, and he would lock you in the room for days."

In response to the allegations, an online campaign called #MuteRKelly launched last year. It has gained widespread visibility since Time's Up publicly joined in on Monday, supported by several influential women in entertainment — including director Ava DuVernay, television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes and actress Lupita Nyong'o.

Another advocate is Tarana Burke, an activist and the founder of the Me Too movement.

"What we are looking for, in our community and out," Burke says, "is some accountability from the corporations that support this person who has a 24-year history of sexual violence perpetrated against black and brown girls around the country."

In yesterday's statement, R. Kelly's management called the Time's Up letter an "attempted public lynching," and noted, "Since America was born, black men and women have been lynched for having sex or for being accused of it."

Tarana Burke says that using the word "lynching" is wrong.

"This is not a lynching," she says. "You know, we are only a week out of the national monument to lynching being opened in Montgomery, Ala. and the history, and the reality of lynching in America is so, so painful and so real. This is not a public lynching. This is a call for public accountability."

"So what we've seen in the last six months," Burke continues, "is a wave of accountability happen where corporations have stepped away from men, even if in the short term, to have authentic investigations into allegations. We have seen 24 years of allegations leveled against R. Kelly, and he has gone unscathed. So what the letter does is join the #MuteRKelly campaign, that was well on its way already, and joined the chorus of black women around the country who have been saying we want some accountability. Those things have to be interrogated. And I think at the very least we need to see corporations step away from them until we have satisfactory investigation into these allegations."

An R. Kelly concert scheduled for next Saturday in Chicago was canceled by promoters. His next planned show is next week in Greensboro, North Carolina. The venue where Kelly is expected to perform, the Greensboro Coliseum Complex, was one of the companies and venues named in the Time's Up letter, along with RCA Records, Spotify, Apple Music and Ticketmaster.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Activists have been working for months to get the music industry to sever its ties with R&B singer R. Kelly. There have been allegations against him for years by women who say he sexually abused them. Now women of color from the Time's Up movement have published an open letter calling on companies like Spotify and record label RCA to drop Kelly. His management responded to Monday's letter with a blunt denial. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports on the sometimes-graphic allegations.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: In 2002, R. Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. He was later acquitted by a jury. Since then, families of several women have come forward, accusing him of keeping their loved ones as sex slaves. One of the women who has come forward is Jerhonda Pace, who met the singer when she was 15. Pace, who's now in her 20s, described her experiences on the talk show "The Real" last September.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE REAL")

JERHONDA PACE: He would slap you in your face. And he would physically, like, harm you. And he would put you in a room, and he would lock you in the room for days - for days.

TSIOULCAS: In a response to the allegations, an online campaign called #MuteRKelly launched last year. It's gained widespread visibility since Time's Up publicly joined in. Influential women in entertainment, including director Ava DuVernay, television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes and actress Lupita Nyong'o have come forward to add their voices to the effort. Another is Tarana Burke, an activist and founder of the #MeToo movement.

TARANA BURKE: What we are looking for in our community and out is some accountability from the corporations that support this person who has a 24-year history of sexual violence perpetrated against black and brown girls around the country.

TSIOULCAS: In yesterday's statement, R. Kelly's management called the Time's Up letter a, quote, "attempted public lynching," unquote, and noted that, quote, "since America was born, black men and women have been lynched for having sex or for being accused of it." Tarana Burke says that using the word lynching is wrong.

BURKE: This is not a lynching. We are only a week out of the national monument for lynching being opened in Montgomery, Ala. And the history of and the reality of lynching in America is so, so painful and so real. This is not a public lynching. This is a call for public accountability.

TSIOULCAS: An R. Kelly concert scheduled for Saturday in Chicago has been canceled by promoters. Kelly's next scheduled show is next week in Greensboro, N.C. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAMSEY LEWIS' 'JACKSON PARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.