It Be Ya Own Damn Family- Failing Aaliyah

I’m sure if you have a Black Twitter or Facebook feed, the majority of your timeline is in shambles over Surviving R. Kelly, a series that debuted last evening. It chronicled the many accounts of underage women the self-proclaimed Pied Piper of R&B sexually and emotionally abused over the span of his superstardom. The main focus of the first part of the series was Kelly’s upbringing up until the time he met Aaliyah, his then-protege and label-mate under Jive records. Aaliyah and R. Kelly also shared a manager, Aaliyah’s uncle and former husband-ger of Gladys Knight, Barry Hankerson.

I had absolutely no intention of inserting a think-piece into the pool of public opinion concerning Aaliyah & Kel’s relationship because it was old news and I knew he wasn’t shit since the early 90’s. However, after an article surfaced with slams from Aaliyah’s mother, Diane Haughton, citing allegations that Aaliyah and R. Kelly were sexually involved, I couldn’t hold my tongue. Miss Diane, I’m calling you to the carpet.

“So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing…When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.”

– Jovante Cunningham, Former Background Singer for R. Kelly

Miss Diane took issue with this quote and released a hefty statement of her own (courtesy of

Now, wait a minute, here. Naturally, Miss Diane is in defense mode of her daughter’s “legacy” but let’s address a few things, shall we? Where was your concern for her legacy when your daughter and R. Kelly got married? If you were aware of her every whereabout, were you consenting to this marriage since she was allegedly pregnant with Kelly’s baby? According to multiple shared stories in the series, Kelly was great at controlling his victims and was enabled by his crew. Demetrius Smith, Kelly’s former tour manager and personal assistant proclaimed from his very mouth that he forged the court papers on their behalf so the nuptials could take place. Cook County court documents don’t lie! Where were you then, Miss Diane?

What bothers me the most is how quick she is to refute another black woman’s account of the life she lived with her daughter so adamantly like it was claims out of thin air. You may have never met Jovante but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a relationship with your daughter. Also, we’re all to assume that R. Kelly would up and marry Aaliyah not having been sexually involved with her? The man who hung out at his old high school and the nearby McDonalds to pick up underage girls? Seriously?

You can’t say that Jovante was doing it for fame and money because what fame do you get from recounting a story about an underage girl having sex with a predator? There was absolutely no joy in her face while recalling that memory and she stated she was not the only person who witnessed them having sex. Demetrius stated that Kelly came to him and confessed that she might be pregnant, but you’re not calling him out? I’m confused, here.

Back to Aaliyah’s legacy, though, Miss Diane. If you’re so concerned with that, then why don’t you and your brother, Mr. Barry have a chat about her music being unavailable damn-near everywhere and get the ball rolling on this? Because the only album that is available is her first album titled around the controversy that was brought up in the docuseries that you’re refuting. For those who don’t know Aaliyah like my generation does, all they have to go off of is “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number” a song and album damn-near fully written and produced by the man who statutorily raped her. A song that has a 14-year-old talking about going “all the way” with a grown ass man- the very grown ass 27-year-old man who wrote the song. What a damn legacy.

Perhaps Mr. Hankerson’s guilt is what kept him from releasing her music. Perhaps, your own guilt around not being present to fight off your daughter’s predatory producer is why you are fighting against the stories in the docuseries. I understand to relive that pain is unbearable, especially since back then it was much easier to sweep under the rug without social media’s rapid-fire sharing of information. I get it…but no, I don’t.

Truth be told, it was my parent’s generation and the grown ups in Aaliyah’s life who failed her. I remember seeing the December 1994/January 1995 issue of Vibe where the certificate was published. It took up a whole damn page. Some time thereafter, I had a poster of Aaliyah from Word Up! Magazine. I wrote my own personal note to Aaliyah on it in permanent marker questioning if age ain’t nothin’ but a number then why is everyone upset about your marriage to R. Kelly? My mother saw the photo with my comments and told me not to feed into the “tabloids” although she knew the marriage certificate had been published. I was 11 years old and knew better but moms was a big time R. Kelly fan.

I’m assuming Barry and Aaliyah’s parents were fans of those checks because he continued to manage him after the fact. And one more thing, Miss Diane- if you were so aware of your daughter’s life while Surviving R. Kelly then how did the marriage last for two whole months before an annulment? Y’all failed her.

It be ya own damn family!

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