In one of the oddest events we’ve seen in a while, R. Kelley, the man who was accused of molesting a young girl, was the Grand Marshal of a children’s back-to-school parade. The parade was the 82nd annual Bud Billiken Parade, held in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. It is the largest and oldest African American parade in the country.
R. Kelly (real name Robert Sylvester Kelly) was first known to have a penchant for underage women when he married 15-year old singer Aaliyah. This was right after he wrote the song, ”Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number.”
A man who admits he cannot read, and famously beat child-porn charges might not seem the most obvious honorary Grand Marshal of a children’s parade
But despite critics who complained loudly, thousands turned-out to see R&B singer R. Kelly at the annual parade on Saturday.
Families cheered for Kelly, who has been recovering from throat surgery since last month, the entire parade route. As his sexually charged tunes blared from a sound system, he smiled and waved back.
“You’re still my baby, no matter what you did!” yelled one fan, Leslie Kaizer, 36.
Most parade-goers agreed, maintaining that charges R. Kelly filmed himself having sex with (and urinating) on a 14-year-old should have been forgotten after 2008, when jurors couldn’t be sure it was him on the infamous tape.
“Isn’t that what justice is in the United States?” said Tiffany Levy, 38, a mother of two girls.
“Yes, R. Kelly miraculously beat his child pornography charge, but being found not guilty is not the same as being proven innocent,” one parade-watcher said.
Kelly, 44, acknowledged his literacy problem in 2009, telling an audience, “I don’t even read really, and I’m not afraid to say that. My cousins and brothers used to tease me ‘You can’t even read right.’” But his supporters Saturday said that didn’t harm his role in the pro-education event.
“He used his God-given talent,” said Chris Bertram, 36. “That doesn’t mean he can’t tell the kids to go to school and do something he didn’t do.”
R. Kelly asked to participate in the parade, said Beverly Reed-Scott of Chicago Defender Charities. And while most celebrities “wave from a float and go home,” Kelly visited with youths whose training in green technologies is supported by the parade, Reed-Scott said.
There was, however, a small minority of unimpressed parade-goers.
“It doesn’t seem right,” said Gladys Sumerall, 55. “I don’t think I’d have picked him.”
Dr. Boyce Watkins, a critic of the R. Kelly choice had this to say: “The decision to make R. Kelly the head of a parade for young children is a revealing and uncomfortable manifestation of just how skewed our values have become. The only thing that matters to some of us is that a person is rich and famous. We care almost nothing about character, integrity or whether that individual serves as a good role model.”
Was choosing R. Kelly a bad decision for organizers?