Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2003 / 27 Shevat, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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R. Kelly as inspiration doesn't fly

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It's the stuff of movies: Boy grows up poor, boy escapes poverty, boy achieves fame and fortune, boy gets not just the girl but lots of them.

It's also the stuff of books, and one has been written about this particular boy ‹ a children's book aimed at 6- to 9-year-olds to teach little ones about self-esteem, perseverance and beating the odds. Originally released in 1998, "I Can Fly" will be back on the shelves March 1. R&B singer R. Kelly is, after all, quite the role model for inner-city kids yearning for a better life.

Actually, he's inspirational. So says "I Can Fly" publisher and author Kim J. Dulaney. And those kiddie-porn charges? That's new news. "I Can Fly" was written in 1997, several years before the Grammy Award-winning Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography based on a 27-minute videotape that surfaced last February.

That tape anonymously landed at the Chicago Sun-Times, which passed it on to police, who say the girl depicted was born in September 1984. That would make either her 13 or 14 at the time of the taping, depending on the news report. The FBI says the tape is authentic, and 50 witnesses identify Kelly as the person on the tape. Kelly says the tape was doctored, this being the digital age and all, and the girl's parents deny their daughter's involvement.

Last June, Kelly pled not guilty to tape-related charges and was out on bond when he was arrested last week in Florida on new kiddie-porn charges. This arrest stemmed from the Chicago investigation and include 12 digital images found on Kelly's camera equipment. Some show a nude, underage girl, while others depict Kelly and the girl engaged in sexual activity. Mum's the word so far on how those images were doctored.

Underage sex appears to be a theme in Kelly's life. MSNBC reports that three women have filed civil lawsuits claiming Kelly coerced them to have sex with him when they were teenagers; two have been settled, while Kelly is fighting the third. And he is believed to have married the late singer Aaliyah and former protégé when she was 15 with a marriage license that said she was 18, although both denied it. Aaliyah's Kelly-produced debut album was entitled "Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number," which came out the same year the two supposedly wed.

The cartoon-illustrated biography covers Kelly and his rise out of Chicago's South Side projects into the music world, where he became a recording star of booty-shakin' songs as well as the gospel-inspired "I Believe I Can Fly." Dulaney's Chicago-based company did withdraw the book last year after those 21 child-porn charges. But that was last year. No one says Kelly's a criminal, only an alleged criminal. "My re-releasing isn't based on his guilt or innocence," Dulaney told the New York Post. "It's based on what the book does for ... inner-city youth."

Don't forget women and children. Dulaney told a Florida television station that, while her company is concerned about Kelly's situation, "Our commitment is to uplift readers, especially women and children." Great. Does that include teenage girls?

Shoot, the kids don't care about Kelly's problems with sex allegations involving children not much older than they. Heck, they want to be inspired.

One might wonder: inspired by what? That Kelly has been repeatedly dogged by allegations of underage sex, some supposedly coerced? That, while married with three children, he faces civil and criminal cases involving allegations of sex with minors? That he's handy with video equipment and a digital camera?

We love poor-boy-makes-it-big stories, partly because we live in a place where rising above one's circumstances is possible and celebrated. Encouraging children to believe they can do the same and instilling the desire to achieve are laudable endeavors. But when holding someone up as a role model worth emulating, perhaps we could steer clear of someone facing multiple criminal charges on child pornography.

Because it seems Kelly didn't follow his lyrics from "Bump N' Grind": "So show me some ID before I get knee deep."

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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