Local women who worked to mute R. Kelly welcome guilty verdict

#MuteRKelly co-founders gave victims voice after R&B singer allegations
Kenyette Tisha Barnes and Oronike Odeleye are co-founders of #MuteRKelly. CONTRIBUTED

Kenyette Tisha Barnes and Oronike Odeleye are co-founders of #MuteRKelly. CONTRIBUTED

For Oronike Odeleye, it was relief. Then a shout of Hallelujah.

R. Kelly, the one-time ground-breaking R&B superstar, was convicted Monday of sex trafficking after decades of numerous allegations of misconduct with young women and children.

Odeleye helped get him there.

Odeleye, and another Atlantan, Kenyette Tisha Barnes, are co-founders of #MuteRKelly, a national grassroots movement launched in 2017 to pressure radio stations and concert venues to stop playing R. Kelly’s music or booking performances. They also insisted that people simply stop listening to his music.

“Right now, I am so relieved,” Odeleye said moments after the verdict. “I am sure happiness and elation will follow. This has been such a journey for me and Kenyette. But most importantly, for the women who have been asking for justice for close to three decades.”

Following a litany of victims who testified to abuse by Kelly, a jury of seven men and five women found the singer guilty of racketeering on just their second day of deliberations. He has not been sentenced yet.

One of the most popular and prolific singers of his generation, the singer, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, was long followed by allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors, including the singer Aaliyah, whom Kelly married illegally in 1994 when she was only 15.

Despite numerous allegations of sexual abuse, Kelly continued for years to record and collaborate with some of the biggest stars in the industry. His records still sold, his concerts still sold out and fans still supported him.

But much of that started to change with the creation of #MuteRKelly, as well as the six-part docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly,” both of which have given voice to victims.

“We were finally able to bring down that wall of silence. I knew he couldn’t get out of this,” Odeleye said. “I hope this is a sign big enough to send a message, not to just the rich and powerful, but just the everyday person that we are not going to stand for this and we are going to rally our resources to stop it.”

In 2019, Odeleye was named the fifth most influential African-American in the country by The Root (Stacey Abrams topped of the list) for her work to combat sexual violence against Black girls in the wake of allegations and charges against Kelly.

Odeleye said one of the overriding goals of #MuteRKelly was to call for a boycott of “all of the people around him who have been enabling the abuse.”

Although Kelly is from Chicago, where the trial was held, he had ties in Atlanta, including a Johns Creek mansion highlighted in the documentary as a place where he held several females hostage. The house was sold earlier this year, according to media reports.