Following the damning Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly, protesters gathered outside the star’s Chicago recording studio to share stories of survival, call for an end to Kelly’s career, and bring attention to the young women at the centre of his alleged “cult”.
A small group of protesters passed around a megaphone. One colourful sign raised in the air said: “Age ain’t nothing but a number. Well jail ain’t nothing but a room.”
“I couldn’t stand by and be silent,” Dawn Valenti said through the megaphone. “It’s important for us as survivors to stand up.”
Chants of “R Kelly, your time is up!” and “Black girls matter!” were directed at the brick building.
Protester Tebitha Kulikowska, 26, of Belmont Cragin, said she came to the protest to help give voice to those who don’t have an outlet.
“I want there to be a future that girls can look forward to,” Ms Kulikowska said. “The documentary really opened up my eyes.”
The six-hour documentary – watched by almost 20 million viewers earlier this month – covers decades of abuse allegations against the Grammy winner, including the six-year legal battle that culminated with Kelly being acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008.
Kelly, 52, has long denied all allegations of sex abuse and of running a “cult.”
But a wave of backlash followed release of the documentary.
Kelly is reportedly under criminal investigation in Georgia, and Cook County State’s attorney Kim Foxx this past week asked alleged victims to come forward.
On Wednesday, a protest was held outside the studio, and Thursday, a proposal for a local concert hosted by Kelly was denied due to security concerns, while a radio station banned his music.
On Friday, Kelly was ordered to allow city building inspectors to check out the recording studio after reports that people were living in the industrial warehouse space in violation of city codes.
On Saturday, as protesters chalked messages on the slick sidewalks, Tyler Thompson, 22, talked about what brought her to the studio.
Thompson said that growing up, she knew people who knew Kelly, and she was invited to his residence. But she never asked her mum if she could go, because Thompson knew her mum would say no.
“If I didn’t have a mom who put that fear in me,” Thompson said, “I could have been one of those women.”
Thompson said she has friends who defend the singer, but she sees the current moment as a turning point.
“A lot of this wouldn’t happen if the documentary wasn’t made,” she said. “I will definitely keep coming out if there’s more protests. I just hope everyone keeps their energy and focus on the women.”
But soon two white cars arrived in front of the studio, blasting Kelly’s music.
Signs popped out of the windows with messages of “forgiveness” for Kelly and Bible verses. “R. Kelly We (heart) U,” one sign read.
The supporters and protesters shouted back and forth. One supporter left a car with a megaphone and tried to speak as the crowd attempted to drown him out with cries of “Mute R Kelly”.
By about 11.30am, the white cars were gone.
“I prayed with them,” Clark said. “I circled up and prayed with them because I don’t hate anyone.”
Clark said there’s a Monday protest at Trump Tower in the works. Police went to Kelly’s residence at the building on Friday on a tip that women were being held hostage but left after finding no evidence of wrongdoing.
“We’re not going to stop, because you see how pervasive it is,” Clark said.
“They’re playing his music, they’ve got the signs out, look, even more cars coming now. It’s pervasive. Every time you play a song, how many more women and girls are being impacted and victimised?”
The cars circled back, windows open, music playing.
“This is exactly what I was talking about,” Thompson said. “These are supposed to be the men who protect women like me.”