After two decades of sexual assault allegations, an explosive Lifetime docu-series and relentless pressure from Black women activists to divest from his music, embattled R&B star R. Kelly was arrested and held on $100,000 bail in February 2019 in what would seem like a win for the co-founders and supporters of #MuteRKelly, the movement to silence the singer’s music for the alleged sexual abuse of women and girls. But Nigerian-American co-founder Oronike Odeleye isn’t ready to call a victory. (R. Kelly has since pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of four victims.)
Odeleye, who makes it clear that she is an African-American woman of the diaspora and therefore, a champion for all African women, tells OkayAfrica that there’s still work to be done. “#MuteRKelly continues until the Black community has fully financially divested from the man and his music and we tackle the overwhelming issue of sexual abuse,” she says.
With an active movement to save Black girls, Odeleye tells OkayAfrica in this condensed interview how she feels inspired by the youth and why it’s imperative that we protect them at all costs:
I have been standing up for women of the Black African diaspora my whole life. This recent work supporting sexual abuse victims was sparked by my outrage at our society's lack of empathy and support for R. Kelly's many underaged victims.
Youth culture has impacted my work. That today's young woman is not allowing anyone to define her sexuality, regulate her body or shame her choices gave me the strength to be vocal about our disregard of young black girls who find themselves victims of sexual, physical, mental and emotional abuse.
[The youth] are fearless! They are forging paths that make many people of the older generations uncomfortable, but their work will ensure greater freedoms for generations to come.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity