On Monday, disgraced R&B entertainer Robert Sylvester Kelly, known to most as R. Kelly, was found guilty on all nine counts of racketeering and sex trafficking in violation of the Mann Act.
Now, one of his ex-mentees, Stephanie “Sparkle” Edwards is speaking out and sharing her thoughts on the verdict and what her life’s been like in the 20 years since she first sounded the alarm on Kelly’s predatory and illegal behavior. For context, Sparkle was among the first people to shine a light on her ex-mentor’s actions, notifying the police of his wrongdoings after viewing the infamous 2001 tape in which a man identified by witnesses as Kelly engaged in a sexual act and urinated on her then 14-year-old niece. Sparkle had initially introduced her niece to the entertainer in 1997 with the hopes that, given her own mentor/mentee relationship with the singer-producer, he’d help launch the young girl’s aspiring rap career as well.
In conversation with The Cut’s Angelina Chapin, Sparkle reflected on Kelly’s recent trial and guilty verdict, saying:
I didn’t think I would be emotional. But I am. [Her voice breaks.] It’s just been a long time for me, dealing with this. On the one hand, I think I’m a little sad because Robert was my ex-mentor and what he did was just a punch to my chest. And I’m also relieved. Thank God they got it right this time. At the first trial, nobody believed me. I hope all the girls, boys, and women affected by him are also breathing a sigh of relief. There’s finally some justice, though we have to wait and see what the sentence is. I was the Lone Ranger at first, and now I have my riders behind me.
She later noted, “Hearing the details has been really hard. Robert’s behavior is so much worse than even I thought. I’m praying for everyone who had to relive their trauma during testimony. Thankfully, the atmosphere this time felt very different from the trial in 2008. The last 20 years have been absolutely exhausting for me. It’s been a lonely road.”
Sparkle then went on to explain how her personal and professional relationships suffered in the last 20 years since she initially spoke out. She revealed how she, her niece and her parents, and her siblings have been mostly estranged as a result, but nevertheless, she doesn’t regret what she did back in 2001 or what she shared in the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries.
“After seeing the video, there was not an iota of doubt that I needed to act. I had to cover my niece because nobody else was doing it,” Sparkle explained in part, adding: “In speaking out for my niece, I spoke out for a bunch of girls that I didn’t know. I laid down on the ground for them and took a Mack truck rolling over me. I took all of the backlash. I didn’t wait a day, a month, or ten years. I just wanted it to be known what this monster was doing. And I would do it all over again.”
Additionally, Sparkle also shared how her professional ambitions were stifled after many in the industry sided with Kelly and refused to work with her. She said in the last 18 years, she only managed to put out a few songs and perform for a handful of private events before she eventually became homeless. Though things appear to be working in her favor now (she’s since put out more singles and is working on a forthcoming EP), Sparkle notes that she hasn’t felt any real personal vindication for the way she was blackballed back then.
“It feels good to have more support, but I don’t care about the vindication. I don’t trust it—people will turn on you in a minute. Even after Me Too, I haven’t heard from industry people saying, ‘Girl, we got your back,’ or ‘Speak your truth.’ It’s been radio silence. Where are they? No one’s apologized for shutting me out,” she explained.
But despite the downsides, Sparkle is sure she’d do it all over again in a heartbeat if it meant saving her loved ones and other girls and women from experiencing harm at the hands of Kelly and men like him.
“I’m praying I’m not called to testify at another trial, because I’ve already said my truth. But if I am, I will surely be there to share it all over again. I do have more to say, and more insights into what happened. I lost it all, but I’ve made gains as well,” she said.
“Integrity is very important to me, and I still have mine intact. I can look in the mirror and say, “You’re okay, girl.” I didn’t take any money from Robert. I didn’t let anyone deter me from speaking up. I know that I’m going down in history being on the right side of truth.”
To read Sparkle’s full interview, head to thecut.com.