By Samantha Latson
Instead of separating the present from the past for Black History Month, Dean of Students Jamar Orr, felt the need to discuss both the past and present to raise awareness on a larger issue plaguing the black community. That issue is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a topic that makes people uncomfortable. Consider it the elephant in the room.
With the help of the Heritage Committee and Office of Title IX Compliance, the topic of sexual abuse in the black community pushed back into the public sphere.
Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 5:30 p.m., Mary Mitchell, columnist and editorial board member for the Chicago Sun-Times, came to Roosevelt to lead the conversation on sexual abuse in the black community with students and faculty. Mitchell is known for speaking out against issues concerning sexual assault.
Mitchell has written articles speaking against victim blaming, while also highlighting sexual abuse scandals within Chicago Public Schools. Mitchell is also known for being vocal when it comes to expressing her stance on R Kelly. When asked why she’s taken a stance and has the courage to speak out against sexual assault she said, “I’m an advocate for women and children and I grew up in in an environment where sexual assault and harassment was rampant.”
The recent release of the, “Surviving R. Kelly” docuseries brought the conversation of sexual abuse in the black community to many living rooms, dining rooms, work places, beauty shops and even churches. This series forced the black community to confront and have a conversation on the issue of sexual abuse. The series trended on Twitter for days. With this exposure, the black community couldn’t run away from the conversation – it was now the talk of the town.
So why is it that sexual abuse is viewed as a “taboo” in the black community?
“The roots go back to the days when parents had no choice in terms of child care and were leaving their children at homes with people that weren’t looking out for their best interest,” Mitchell said. “When it comes to children, parents may feel responsible and are going to feel that if they had done a better job, this wouldn’t of happened to their child.”
When asked why it took so long for the story of R.Kelly to be shared, Mitchell expounded on our loyalty as Chicagoans to artist from our home. She responded saying “It took a long time and it’s taking a long time for us in Chicago to deal with the R. Kelly situation because he was one of ours. It’s hard for us to accept, given everything that we know about black men being stereotyped, wronged and falsely accused. As a community we love our celebrities and hold them up,” said Mitchell.
The conversation with Mitchell sparked the question on how far our loyalty as a community goes? Mitchell stated, being a black journalist covering stories on R. Kelly was a struggle, and that she didn’t write many stories. “I knew the black community didn’t want to here a black woman speaking out against R. Kelly even if it was true. I received negative emails,” Mitchell said.
“I was ‘Angie Mama,’ and ‘Uncle Tom’ all because I believed that any male who would have sex with an underage girl was, in fact, a sexual predator.”
The stories concerning R. Kelly have been going for years. The release of the docuseries has had an impact on the conversation of sexual abuse in the community. Mitchell stated that there’s been an impact because we’ve evolved as a people.
“It’s been 25 years. We’ve grown up. We have now have the Me Too Movement. That was a large movement that was started by Tarana Burke a black woman who said that there’s something wrong when we cannot talk about sexual abuse and assault in the African American community,” Mitchell said.
In her closing, Mitchell left us with a task to love and inspire one another, in regards to understanding victims of sexual assault in the black community. “If I leave you with anything I hope I’ve left you with the idea that we as a people have a lot of power,” Mitchell said. “Let’s learn to use our power to uplift our race and community.”