Before they become Black grandmothers they are Black girls- worthy of love, respect, and protection. We stand with Black women and girls, especially those who suffer sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. We know that Black women and girls are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to be victims of abuse and violence. 1,2  We know that #FastTailedGirls is a social construction used to objectify and exploit Black girls. We know from #SurvivingRKelly that it is also used to condone pedophilia, rape, and statutory rape. We know that Black women experience the burden of having to be perfect or worthy victims in order to elicit sympathy and support. Not to mention, get justice for transgressions committed against us. We know that despite appearances of openness and disclosure, Black women have a long history of engaging in what Dr. Darlene Clark Hines refers to as a “culture of dissemblance” to shield the truth of our inner lives and selves from our oppressors.3 We know that Black women “developed a code of silence around intimate matters as a response to discursive and literal attacks” on our sexuality.4 We know that disrupting this culture of dissemblance is part of our liberation. We also know that until we are liberated, none will be! We are the canaries in the coal mine. #SayHerName #BlackGirlsMatter #Misogynoir #MeToo

We know that Black women and girls have to fight to be respected, protected, and cherished both in the larger society and in our own homes and communities. We know that too often we are left to fight this fight alone despite our work on behalf of Black men and all women. We laud Black grandmother Dr. Lena McLin for speaking out on behalf of black women and girls even when we don’t all get on board to do this just and necessary work and reckoning. #MuteRKelly #SurvivingRKelly #RKelly #RealBlackGrandmothers

#SurvivingRKelly was a powerful reminder that many have to be complicit for predators to operate. Despite their over 30 year relationship and Kelly’s fundraiser to help her save her home after her building was converted to condos, Dr. McLin still stood for what is right and just.5 She didn’t simply stand by him because he was her mentee and student. She didn’t just stand by him because she cares for him. She stood on the side of right. She stood on the side of morality. She stood on the side of truth. She reminds us that everybody can’t be bought into silence.  She reminds us that true love and compassion call for accountability–an acknowledgment of harm and wrongdoing. Dr. McLin recognizes that there can be no healing, no safety, no loving community, without accountability and truth-telling.

She shared with Surviving R Kelly docuseries producer Dream Hampton, “I was impressed and I was amazed because he was musically genius material. He didn’t talk about home life, but you knew about it because it came out in the music. Children express what they fear or they love, what’s around them you know. He was very, very aggressive. Aggressive in some his sexual language, which we had to discuss that it wouldn’t really be appropriate at the school and that it wouldn’t really be appropriate period.”

“I often told Robert he should not meet young girls and don’t give me no bullshit about that you should not meet em’ and that was my language to him consistently. He has no business around them. They were too young for him. I told him, go on and live your life the way you wanna live it but don’t bring that on somebody else’s life.”

“They were too young for him. They were so vulnerable.”

“I hope Robert is trying to get his sins together.”

Dr. McLin’s (September 5, 1928-) work as a musician, teacher, and composer is unparalleled. #SurvivingRKelly #MuteRKelly was only one of many students who would go on to achieve great musical success. Mandy Patinkin, Metropolitan Opera star Mark Rucker and jazz singers Maggie Brown and Kim English are also former students. She trained the likes of Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, Aretha Franklin, and Da Brat.

The Atlanta native was born into a family that valued Jesus, education, music, and community. Her parents, Benjamin J. and Bernice Dorsey Johnson raised her with this same appreciation. Close childhood friends with the young Martin Luther King Jr. and his sister Christine, Dr. McLin’s affinity for peace, justice and the upward mobility of Black Americans was nurtured from the very beginning. At 5 years old, Lena was sent to Chicago to live with her uncle, Thomas A. Dorsey, who was known by many as “the father of Gospel music.” Her love for music was cultivated from an early age, and she acted as a young accompanist to her uncle’s famed choir at Pilgrim Baptist Church. She returned to Georgia for high school, graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1947, and Spelman College in 1951, where she earned a bachelors degree in music. Dr. McLin continued her education in Chicago at the American Conservatory of Music, Roosevelt University, and Chicago State University.6

She began her teaching career in 1959 at Julius H. Hess Upper Grade Center. Shortly after, she founded the McLin Ensemble and the McLin Opera Company. Recognizing the need for those with any leverage to bring others through open doors, she created performance opportunities for African American musicians.7 As her grandson, William Kurk stated, “She was more than just a music teacher to a lot of people. She was a mother to a lot people. My grandmother has taught so many students.”

For a decade, Dr. McLin taught at Julius H. Hess Upper Grade Center, Hubbard High School, and John Marshall Harlan High School. In 1970, she began teaching at the newly opened Kenwood Academy, where she acted as the Music Department chair. It was here that she started her pilot music curriculum, which encompassed all types of music, from classical to popular. She exposed her students to the expansive power of music to transform, expose the truth, and heal internal wounds.  Seven years later, Dr. McLin published Pulse: A History of Music.8

Dr. McLin founded Trinity Congregational Church and Holy Vessel Baptist Church, serving as Minister of Music and Pastor, respectively. She has published over 400 compositions, including a tribute to her childhood friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and acclaimed author Gwendolyn Brook. Her works range from solo pieces to full orchestrations, showcasing her eye and ear for the small and big picture. Awarded the Outstanding Teacher Award in 1983, Dr. McLin is sought after nationally for her speaking and workshops. She is also the recipient of numerous other awards and honorary degrees. Among the multitude of children she’s nurtured, Dr. McLin raised a daughter and son.9

Her presence and voice in the Surviving R. Kelly docuseries speaks to her continued commitment to seeing and demanding the best in people. Her admission of the wrongdoings she witnessed as Robert’s mentor speak to the power of community when we don’t look away in disgust and denial; but instead, cherish and champion the most marginalized among us–in this case, Black girls and Black women. We may never fully know the degree of misogynoir and violence Dr. McLin endured throughout her own life, and within her own community. What we do know, is that it is quite rare for a Black girl to grow into a Black woman and Black Grandmother in this country without being harmed at the intersections of multiple oppressive forces. By speaking out, Dr. McLin honors the litany of Black girls and women who came before her, and who will continue to come after. By speaking out against violence and abuse, she honors herself.

With Love, LaShawnDa & Sara

  3. Hine, Darlene Clark (Summer 1989). “Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West: Preliminary Thoughts on the Culture of Dissemblance”. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 14 (4): 912.
  4. Mitchell, Michele (November 1999). “Silences Broken, Silences Kept: Gender and Sexuality in African-American History”. Gender & History. 11 (3): 436.
  7. Ibid
  8. Ibid
  9. Ibid