Before 2008, Christine Beatty, as the chief of staff to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, was a celebrated strategist with a promising future in politics. That changed the morning the Detroit Free Press published the private, intimate text messages that Beatty and Kilpatrick exchanged on their government-issued phones during their six-year extramarital affair.
The fallout was brutal. The texts proved that Beatty had once lied under oath by denying her affair with Kilpatrick. Beatty, a mother, was sentenced to 90 days in jail. In addition, she was mercilessly roasted in the press and by the public. And after the media smoke cleared and people moved on to drag someone else, Beatty still found herself branded with a scarlet A.
Nearly eight years after her very public downfall, Beatty is back in the spotlight—this time, on her own terms. She’s one of five women participating in Centric’s new docuseries, From the Bottom Up, which follows the lives of Beatty and other women who are searching for redemption after experiencing a public fallout. Queen Latifah is executive producer of the series.
In an exclusive interview, Beatty opens up to The Root about forgiving herself, moving on and handling the most devastating ordeal of her life.
The Root: Why did you decide to do a reality show?
Christine Beatty: I didn’t decide to do any reality show; it was this reality show. [Producer] Nicci Gilbert approached me and explained her concept, which was different women who had a fall from grace due to their own poor choices, and the idea that you can push forward and have a second chance. Second chances are real, but it’s what you do with them. That’s what got me thinking, “OK, well, maybe.”
TR: What do you think viewers of From the Bottom Up will be surprised to learn about you?
CB: Maybe that I was a real professional. People were so bombarded with the sexting and the text-message scandal that they really didn’t have an opportunity to understand that I was the actual chief of staff [to the mayor]. I had a reputable job; I ran the mayoral campaigns. And the job was my passion.
I also think people would be surprised to know just how devastating that ordeal was for me personally, professionally, for my colleagues. One of the most painful things for me was that my city had to suffer though an ordeal that I was a part of. That crushed me. Not a lot of people got to see how that ordeal affected me. I went into the background, so most people only saw the side of my story that the press wrote about. I didn’t speak on it.
TR: Most people will never be in the center of a national scandal that makes the covers of newspapers. What was that like?
CB: It was tough. I used to Google my name and go, “Wow.” I couldn’t believe the amount of negative stories that were written about me. People were constantly making judgments on me as a person. It was a very surreal experience. It was like, “They can’t be talking about me. Who is this person that they’re talking about?”
In the beginning it was leading me to a place of depression and hurt, but later, as I began to move past the ordeal, those stories helped me to reclaim my power again. It became, “OK. This can’t be the last word written about me. I can’t allow that to happen.” I realized I don’t need to read that, I needed to rewrite it. That’s my motivation, not only for myself but for my daughters. You can get knocked down, but how are you going to get back up? It may not be to this extreme, but how do you recover?
TR: That’s my next question: How did you recover? Or have you recovered?
CB: I have absolutely recovered in my personal life. It was a huge process. Forgiving myself was the hardest thing to do in terms of restoring my spirit. I did what I call putting the guilt bricks down. I walked around with them for so long, and they were so heavy. And I don’t think I’ve put them down completely. It’s still a process.
I had to be prayerful, and I talked to myself a lot about what forgiveness looked like. If you walk around mired in guilt and holding on to all the terrible things that you think about yourself, you wear that; people see it. My breakthrough was when I realized, “How can you ask other people to forgive you when you haven’t forgiven yourself?”
TR: Have you recovered professionally?
CB: Not fully. Nope. I’ve dealt with not having income and not being able to find consistent employment. People not giving me the opportunity, [not seeing] past the ordeal [to] look at my talents and skills, was very frustrating. I’ve done some private business consulting, some small-business consulting. It’s been extremely up and down, not very lucrative. There have been times that I’ve not been able to pay the bills, if not for my family.
TR: What do you hope people will take away from watching your experience on From the Bottom Up?
CB: The show is not just about me. It’s about five of us that have been in a circumstance that has caused us to change our lives for the worse. And it’s about how we are recovering from that, rebuilding our lives, our homes and our careers. There will be people who identify with going through a personal fog, not so public, but they’ll see it and think, “Hey, these women are doing it … ” Or trying to do it. The show is from the bottom up. Everybody’s not on the up-up yet. Everybody’s still climbing and striving. People will respect the journey.
Editor’s note: From the Bottom Up premieres Jan. 16 on Centric.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.