The Surviving R. Kelly docuseries has once again brought to the fore conversation about the predatory behavior and sexual allegations regarding 51 year old singer R. Kelly. My social media feed has been all over this story for a few years now and for that reason I decided to #MuteRKelly from my own listening back in early 2017….and I enlisted the help of my students to help me make that decision.
As a #HealthEd teacher, one of the valuable skills that I teach is that of decision making, highlighting to students the role that it plays in our health and personal physical literacy journey. In class we use the DECIDE acronym to help us identify whether or not a decision needs to be made, choose a strategy to make that decision and then evaluate whether or not we made the healthiest choice possible.
Once we have introduced a skill and presented the steps of the skill, in this case the DECIDE model, it is crucial that we as teachers model the skill to our students so that we can walk through the skill cues together, connecting the cues to real life situations. For this reason, I shared my concern about listening to the music of R. Kelly and asked my students to walk through the skill cues to help me make a healthy decision. This is what it looked like.
D: Define the problem. The problem is that the many allegations, over a number of years regarding the behavior of R. Kelly made it uncomfortable for me to listen to his music. I had to decide whether or not to #MuteRKelly from my life as I had previously done with Chris Brown.
E: Explore the alternatives. When exploring alternatives with students it’s OK to let them explore more healthy and less healthy options before making a health-enhancing decision. It’s unrealistic for students to only address ‘healthy’ options.
My alternatives were continue listening to the music or stop listening to the music. There was no half measure available to me so I presented these two alternatives to my students.
C: Consider the consequences. My personal soundtrack was littered with R. Kelly songs. I started teaching just as New Jack Swing exploded and, along with New Edition, Teddy Riley, Keith Sweat and Al.B Sure, the music of R. Kelly was on rotation on my CD Multiplayer. John Hughes movies, the ’85 Bears, Michael Jordan’s Bulls were imprinted into my psyche and ultimately I moved to the suburbs of Chicago, Kelly’s hometown, growing to love music that I could step to. Removing his music from my playlist would leave quite a hole in the soundtrack to my life but it would signal that I believe and support the survivors of sexual abuse.
Continuing to listen to R. Kelly’s music would mean that I was supporting him. The same support that helped build him up and create the megastar he had become, which in turn gave him the power and feeling of invincibility that allowed his behavior to go unchecked. Attempting to justify listening to his music while separating the man from the music was impossible. Particularly when you realize that the songs that he wrote were about the very young girls in his life. In this article David Dennis Jr. wrote:
There is no separating R. Kelly’s music from his crimes because he himself interjected his crimes into his music. The DNA of rape and anti-Black woman violence is splattered across every lyric about sex he’s ever uttered.
I: Identify your values. This, to me, is the most powerful step in the DECIDE model in that it gets the heart of who you are. Your values shape you, they guide you towards being the best version of yourself. When talking about values with my students I show a list of suggested values and ask them to identify the ones that resonate with them.
I value honesty and compassion, justice and being ethical, and when called upon to make a difficult decision I am guided by my own personal mantra. Again influenced by my love of 80’s/90’s music my motto is “Do The Right Thing”. I tell my students that many times you know what is the right thing to do. The right thing won’t always be the easiest, and the easiest decision won’t always be the right decision. It’s important for students to understand that point.
D: Decide and take action. Using our values we can start to strip away the decisions that aren’t right for us, and I know that the right thing to do was to #MuteRKelly from my 160gb iPod, skip the track if his songs turned up in random playlists, and to share my distaste for his behavior with anyone who cared to listen. My students agreed and I let them know that from that moment onwards I would no longer listen to his music.
E: Evaluate your decision. Crucial to any action is the feedback loop and my students have to understand that evaluation is an opportunity to make adjustments. Was the goal that they set too easy? Did the communication technique that they used help them achieve the results they were looking for. Evaluation is an opportunity to have a second chance at becoming the best version of yourself.
Looking back, did I make the right decision? Absolutely. There’s a sense of loss when you remove anything from your life, but that void soon gets filled with something as good, if not better. I was a little taken aback when I realized that R. Kelly is on some of my continuous Christmas mixes, but hitting the skip button was painless. Hearing his songs from my past in the Surviving R .Kelly docuseries brought back old memories, but they didn’t inspire me to return to his back catalog as it did for others.
I return to my decision with my students from time to time and again recruited their help when I asked them to take me through the DECIDE model one more time to address an issue I had with inappropriate text messages from an old friend. Their comments, and ultimately the decision that they helped me make, was thorough and mature, and showed me that my students understood the decision making skill.
If you haven’t already done so, join me, and Apple, and Spotify from removing R Kelly from your musical playlists. You can follow the #MuteRKelly hashtag on social media for updates on the work being done by activists.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, Surviving R Kelly is an engrossing, and often uncomfortable watch.
You might also like to check out:
Mute R Kelly – Friends Like Us (Podcast)
Uncomfortable Listening – A #slowchathealth blog post sharing 9 podcasts that feature sexual abuse
More Movement in the Classroom – A #slowchathealth blog post in which I shared how I use movement to make my DECIDE lessons more engaging
Here’s a playlist of my favorite New Jack Swing tracks: