Drea Kelly isn’t afraid of the dark place. She’s been there. And she says the healing process leads through those dark places to something better, even if you aren’t truly “healed.”
Kelly, the former wife of R&B singer R. Kelly and a survivor of domestic violence at his hands, will be speaking tonight on Nantucket at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on Orange Street at 7 p.m. in support of A Safe Place, the island agency that supports survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
She was married to R. Kelly for 13 years, and in 2018 she came out publicly about the abuse she experienced during their relationship to help encourage other survivors to share their stories and, maybe, help them to heal too.
“We should take the word ‘healed’ out of our vocabulary when it comes to trauma or anything we’ve gone through,” Kelly told the Current. “It’s something that’s ever-evolving and changing. Healing is something we should talk about with a physical wound. If you still cry about it, or it brings you pain, you’re not healed. I think the healing process that is done in a dark space - think of it as a caterpillar that has to go into a cocoon to become a butterfly - it has to die to become something new.”
Kelly, a successful dancer, choreographer and actress, was only 22 when she married the R&B superstar in 1996. They were married for 13 years before their divorce was finalized in 2009. But the revelations about the abuse Kelly suffered during their relationship were disclosed publicly years later when she joined the television show The View and opened up about the physical and emotional trauma she experienced.
“The mantra I have is that there’s no expiration date on your story and no litmus test on your healing,” Kelly said. “No matter what you’ve been through, if it happened when you’re 10 and you found your voice when you're 50, don’t let anyone tell you your timeframe. Letting people know, that’s the hardest part of healing.”
R. Kelly was sentenced in late June to 30 years in prison following his conviction last year on charges including sexual exploitation of a child, racketeering, bribery and sex trafficking.
Despite the #MeToo movement that inspired many to share their stories and seek justice, Kelly thinks the current climate in the country actually makes it more difficult for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to come forward. Why? Two words: social media.
“We’ve gotten worse because of this thing called social media,” Kelly said. “It has done nothing but put us further apart. Before social media, it was victim shaming in your circle or your family. Now you have the world chiming in on such a sensitive subject, and 99 percent of the people victim shaming or blaming have never been through it themselves. The judging, everyone is quick to respond. It’s very scary. I was one of those women who contemplated suicide, standing on a balcony, ready to jump. Imagine being at home in that state and hearing negative comment after negative comment? You don’t have time to process.”
For the leadership of A Safe Place, the opportunity to bring Drea Kelly to the island to speak on these topics was one the could not pass up, and for numerous reasons.
“A Safe Place serves a very diverse community and as aspiring allies we wanted to uplift and honor the voice of a woman of color who has experienced abuse,” said Jennifer Frazee, A Safe Place’s executive director. “Women of color experience abuse at elevated rates across our country and even amongst those we serve. Drea’s message is meant to bring awareness to this issue and ultimately strengthen our anti-violence movement.”
For Drea Kelly, it’s another opportunity to share her messege of healing, perseverance, and solidarity with other victims.
“I feel like I’m a vessel, sharing my story,” she said. “Even if it’s just one woman. I’m using my platform to try to let women see that if Drea Kelly can do it with the whole world watching, I can do it in my community.”
Tonight’s event will take place at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, 11 Orange Street, at 7pm. Admission is free to the public on a first come, first served basis. Doors open at 6pm.