Activist and recording artist Sparkle speaks about testifying against R. Kelly, #MeToo movement


Zinya Salfiti/ The Daily Northwestern

Recording artist and activist Sparkle speaks about her experience testifying against R. Kelly. She lost a case against him in 2008 when she represented her niece who was allegedly assaulted by Kelly.

Isabelle Sarraf, Assistant Campus Editor

Recording artist Sparkle discussed her experience coming forward about R. Kelly’s history of sexual abuse at an event Monday in Fisk Hall.

Sponsored by the Northwestern University Center for Awareness, Response, and Education and others, the anti-sexual violence activist discussed her efforts in assuring that survivors of sexual abuse are heard and supported, especially black women and girls.

In 2001, Kelly allegedly sexually assaulted Sparkle’s niece and was recorded on video doing so. Sparkle testified on her niece’s behalf in a criminal trial on charges of child pornography in 2008, but the jury found Kelly not guilty.

“The truth then is the truth now and will forever be the truth,” Sparkle said. “My truth will not change. People want my truth to change, and I won’t change it because it’s the truth.”

Sparkle was formerly a member of Kelly’s production team and spoke against him at a time when he was one of the most powerful people in the business. She was the only recording artist and public figure then willing to testify on Kelly’s sexual abuse and predatory behavior toward women and minors. Though her family turned against her when she spoke out against Kelly, she said she now uses her platform to speak for survivors of sexual assault and stop the threat of sexual violence.

Sparkle was also one of the women featured in the 2019 Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which detailed the sexual abuse allegations against Kelly. One month after the documentary premiered, Kelly was charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse. Sparkle said though she was not able to see the signs of Kelly’s predatory nature toward her niece, she urged the audience to stay vigilant in monitoring actions that could be used to take advantage of others.

“Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted,” Sparkle said. “Meanwhile, just five out of 1000 perpetrators will end up in prison. There are probably some of you in this room who are a statistic, and your number hasn’t even been counted.”

Kyra Jones, assistant director of sexual violence response services and advocacy at Northwestern’s CARE, said she met Sparkle several years ago when they were both giving interviews at a local news station on the same day.

After the documentary aired, Jones reached out to Sparkle to set up the event because she recognized how much was probably left unsaid after much of Sparkle’s story was cut for time. She said she appreciated how much Sparkle was able to open up about her story, especially her vulnerability in describing the backlash she received from the entertainment industry.

“I wanted to give her the platform she deserved to tell whatever she’s comfortable telling and tell her truth,” Jones said. “(Survivors are) able to see that they’re not alone in this, and that good will still come from you telling your truth to power however that looks.”

Jones said the time between Sparkle’s trial and the inception of the #MeToo movement was marked by supporters of Kelly loudly vocalizing their defense. Getting to hear the other side of the story, she said, was nice to learn more about and uplifts other survivors to speak out about their own experiences.

Samuel Berston, a SESP senior and director of Northwestern’s Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators, said he was extremely inspired by Sparkle’s story. Though Sparkle has only recently received the vindication in Kelly’s conviction for sexual assault early last year, Berston said it has been a long time coming.

“(I admire) the strength and endurance of sticking to the truth for over a decade — almost 20 years,” Berston said. “It shows the cultural change since the #MeToo movement too, that finally now everyone is talking about (sexual assault) and acknowledging it. ”

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Twitter: @isabellesarraf

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