Faith Rodgers was 19-years-old when she met and began dating R. Kelly. After 11 months, she realized the relationship was not for her. But she didn’t leave unscathed. In addition to the psychological scars, she also learned that the singer had given her herpes without ever disclosing his status to her. Since then, she filed a lawsuit to hold Kelly accountable for spreading the disease. She also participated in Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly.”
In our exclusive interview, Rodgers, now 22, spoke about her relationship with R. Kelly, the excuses we make for Black men, and how she’s seeking healing in the aftermath of her relationship and the documentary.
About R. Kelly’s character
Another thing I don’t think people realize about him. His spirit—when he’s being himself it’s innocent, it’s childlike. He’s not just this macho man. It’s very goofy, silly. There’s certain things he doesn’t understand or know how to do. He has his moments. He’s not just a monster all the time. And me being human, I would be a liar if I said that I never felt for him. He can make himself very relatable and then unrelatable. You can know who he is and then totally be like I don’t know where this person came from. This person will describe being molested and how horrible it was but then turn around and say they want a girl that’s like, ‘their mother, their daughter or a dog.’ It’s confusing. It’s very confusing. He’s confusing. People—I think, in their head, have this idea that interacting with him is this exciting thing. His mind—I feel like I caught him at like the worse he’s gotten. From where he was in 2007 to where he was in 2017, it just got weird. A person can only get so freaky to the point where it becomes like perversion.
MadameNoire: You mentioned that he preys on the weak. So where would you say you were in your life when you met him?
Faith Rodgers: Weak. I had just got out of my first real relationship. And like I said, it was really crazy. Abusive as well. At that time, I really was just wanting to feel special, like I mattered to somebody. And I will say, he will make you feel fake special. He makes you think you are more than what you are and that’s what draws you in, in the beginning.
What made Rodgers come forward with her story
MN: How soon after your relationship with R. Kelly ended did you start sharing what you had experienced? And when did you come to the decision that you wanted to fight back?
FR: So, I stopped dealing with Robert in February of 2018. After February, I kind of sat on that information for a few weeks. I was just like, ‘Is it even worth talking about?’ I was bothered by what I had seen but a part of me was just like, ‘Mind your business.’ It was bad for me but it wasn’t that bad.
MN: That’s like a cultural thing for Black people…
FR: Yeah, we always just mind our business. It didn’t have nothing to do with me really until I went to the clinic and my results came back. And that’s when I was like, ‘Okay, it’s a problem for me.’ I definitely should have had that mindset before the STD. After that, I sat on that for three weeks. That first week of March, I reached out to the Savages. We stayed in contact for a month before I ended up talking to an attorney and pursuing a lawsuit. Because in the beginning, I was just talking to them because I had seen them saying, ‘Our daughter’s kidnapped.’ I don’t know if she’s kidnapped but something’s going on that’s not normal there. I’m talking about girls when you walk into the room– Girls, women, we naturally connect by sharing ourselves with each other. And so, to walk into a room and see another young woman. You want me to kiss this girl on the mouth but she can’t tell me where she’s from. That’s a problem.
MN: What influenced you to leave?
FR: Within the last three times of me seeing him, he dropped bombs on me. The more I went back, I was like, ‘Alright it’s getting crazy.’ It more so was an invitation and you take it. Don’t say no. And if you don’t take the invitation, I’m going to put you in situations that make you uncomfortable. So is there a forcefulness about him? Absolutely 100 percent. But does he kidnap people? No, because you have a will. I have a will. But when your mind is gone, that will doesn’t exist. That’s what people don’t understand. People are so hard on Jocelyn and Azriel. And people don’t understand the mental control that goes into this type of situation before it hits the fan.
So for me, I was just realizing maybe I don’t want this. I’m definitely not ready to deal with a grown man. And I’m not ready to deal with a grown man who deals with other women. And he didn’t even say he was dating them, he said he was raising them. So for me, it’s just not a match. How could you raise me?
Not only that, he was telling me that I would have to stay with him for two months. At a time, he told me he was going to put me on a diet because I was gaining weight. It was a whole bunch of stuff. This isn’t going to work. He’s just not the one. He’s not the one, the two or the three.
MN: Was there an announcement or were you just like, ‘I’m out.’?
FR: Honestly, the last time we saw each other, we had an argument. And that’s when he said, he’s a legend. He didn’t care. I needed to respect him. And that last conversation was one of the last face-to-face conversations we had. After that, he ended up not talking to me. Nobody came to the door to bring me food. I was just sitting in his hotel room by myself. And that’s when I said, ‘I’m going to go home. This is a waste of my time.’ I ended up going home. I was texting him, trying to figure out what was going on and he just ignored me. So from then on, I was like I don’t owe you any type of closure either. You have your mind made up. Mine is made up. I’m not going to sit here and wait for you to come and talk to me because you’re upset. A person who cares for me would try to fix something. If there’s a conflict, they’re not going to walk away or leave me by myself or purposely not feed me. You just evil. We didn’t speak after that.
Backlash from the Black community
MN: You spoke about the backlash you’ve received from people. What has that looked like?
FR: The backlash—a lot of the time it comes from older women. They’re diehard fans. They don’t want to see him in jail. Then there’s people my age. I get backlash from them because they think I’m doing this for clout or I’m just being an attention-seeker. The backlash is a little confusing. Because people applaud you for telling your story and then at the same time, you’re getting bashed for telling your story. So it’s like do I hide? Do I shut down? Do I keep talking? Do I shut up? Do I press on? It’s really confusing.
And not even just the backlash, being exposed on a different platform, in my head I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal and it was a huge deal. Everybody had ignored him for years, so I thought when I went out with my lawsuit, I didn’t think it was going to be what it was. Seeing my face on Netflix and things like that, it reminds me of the reality I try and run from. I try to bounce back away from my normal. I try to bounce back from “Surviving R. Kelly.” I’m kind of at the point where I’m accepting, this is who you are. People are going to want to talk about it. I try to avoid that conversation with dating. Now, it’s to the point where I can’t avoid it. We could be chillin’ you turn on Netflix. There I am. So, I have to get over that bump of embarrassment. It’s really kind of been one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever been through. It makes me be more empathetic to people and their situations and what they go through. And at the same time, it makes you not want to be so open with the world because they’re going to eat you alive. You will get praised for telling your story but you will get more hate than anything. People, they can relate to it but they don’t want to admit to it. There were people who went and told everything on the documentary but didn’t tell that they got an STD from him. So I look like a liar. It was just different stuff I had to prepare myself for or defend myself against that I felt like I should have had help with. But that’s the risk you take when you put your face out on anything.
Being in the documentary, I had to be more honest with myself. I be thinking I have it all together. But I’m like, ‘You don’t.’ Sometimes walking out in public scares me. Then some days I’m like, ‘I don’t care.’ But the days where I don’t care, it comes off as recklessness. So I’m trying to find the balance with totally being okay with who I am and my story without being angry. Because I’m angry. I feel like I always have to defend myself. I’m never going to be able to shake it. So when I see people and the disrespect, it’s hard for me to walk away. Right now, that’s what I’m trying to master.
MN: Are there people in the public who have supported you?
FR: Absolutely, it’s not just all hate. There are messages that are in my phone right now that I haven’t looked at because I don’t want to get emotional throughout my day. But they’re encouraging. It’s just a reminder that people are watching you. Those messages are why I feel responsible to keep going. It’s a bittersweet thing because you love positivity. I’m glad that I could connect to somebody but I had to take all this to get a connection. But the feedback. I have support from my peers.
There are people who have come up to me or DM me and be like, ‘Hey. I think I have an STD.’ Now, I’m not a gynecologist. Why you’re not in the clinic, I have no idea. That’s not rewarding but it’s funny how the tables turned. There are so many people who have talked bad about me sending me pictures of their vaginas or penises asking me, ‘What is this?’ First of all, I have type one not type two so I wouldn’t know what to tell you. But you are required to be there for people. When people come into my DMs, I look like a fool to judge them. I do feel a duty. I be on Google like, ‘If it looks like this…’ I do try to give them some comfort. Because I would want someone to give it to me. Because herpes, it’s one of those diseases that scares you if you’re not educated on it. If you’re educated, it doesn’t scare you. That’s what I realize too. A lot of us lack education on STDs. People feel like they can come talk to me. Do I want to talk about STDs all day? No. If this is your deepest, darkest secret that you feel like you wake up in the morning and can’t tell nobody, then tell me.
I wish there was somebody there to make me aware. I wish I had friends who, at the time, weren’t encouraging me to hop on flights and deal with this old man. I wish I had friends that were telling me, ‘Sit down, be young. You’re not ready for a man at 19. I’m sorry, you’re just not.’ I had seen some stuff, I had been through stuff but I’m not some rough, raw kid. There was a lot I still needed to work on myself. And I was just doing too much, absolutely doing too much. But the thing about me is, I take ownership for that. People try to bash me and they don’t realize that I’m normal and 100 percent I take accountability for my part. And any form of sex, unprotected, is a risk you take. Outside of being married, outside of doing what God wants you to do, it’s just what happens. And that’s why I do take accountability and that’s why I’m so angry. I can’t keep throwing myself on the line for people who are going to eat me up regardless.
I can keep saying I didn’t get paid, they’re going to keep calling me a gold digger. I can say, I tried to go to the police first. Because people will say, if you didn’t want money, why are you filing a lawsuit? Because that was the only way to make him accountability. I didn’t think the feds were going to pick it up. The local police wouldn’t pick it up. Feds picked it up because how could y’all look at this documentary and do nothing? So, if the documentary hadn’t gotten put out, how was I supposed to get my justice?
People who are against the second documentary
MN: What would you say to the people who believe that the second documentary is overkill?
FR: I think they’re just ignorant. I think they’re just being stupid. Because how do you take heed to one part and now it’s too much? But was it too much when y’all were crying? People are so hypocritical and so contradicting. They praise you for putting out a documentary and raising awareness but then at the same time they want you to stop because it’s overkill. It’s the Black community that does that. Anytime it’s exposing somebody’s favorite rapper, it’s a problem, you got to stop. That’s always Black people and I’m sick of it. I feel like they’re trying to discourage people from tuning in to part two. People were trying to ignore that documentary and they couldn’t. To discourage people from tuning in to part two is ignorant. Even the survivors who discouraged people from tuning in, that was ignorant. Because we signed a contract. Our faces are forever attached to that. So whether you like it or not, you did it, you’re a part of it. Own it.
I feel like that’s the reason why people don’t take us seriously too. Because if one survivor said, ‘Nothing in that documentary is …
It makes people say, ‘Well, she said…’ Then it’s a whole domino effect. And I feel like actually if there were any questions or anything we needed to clean up, this gave everybody the opportunity to do it. Which is why I wanted to shed light on my parents and my story. Because they were like, ‘Where your momma and daddy at?’ So now I’m clarifying and it’s still not good enough. Part two shows the aftermath. People think that we just been eating off of this. People were upset that I did CBS and I had a smile on my face. I’m smiling so I don’t cry. So I don’t break down on national tv. It’s a nervous smile but they just want to break you down so bad.
MN: Faith, you said that you don’t take pleasure in his downfall but are you angry with R. Kelly as well?
FR: Umm hmm. I’m angry because I feel like even though he’s behind bars, excuses are still being made for him. All the time. I’m angry because I feel like he’s not as dumb as he tries to make himself appear. A person can be not into books and still be intelligent. I’m angry because he just gets a pass. And people really don’t know the depth of his manipulation. People are clout chasing so it gets excused. Dame Dash, he was on the documentary, but it just so happens now that somebody is suing him for sexual assault. So now it’s like you can’t talk about R. Kelly. He’s been made out to be the victim. And he won’t say sorry for anything. All these women are lying. You just refuse to take accountability. That’s the number one thing that makes me upset about him because I know the depths of his power.
MN: What do you think about the people who say things like, ‘You’re trying to bring a Black man down?’
FR: Honestly, those are just ignorant comments. They bother me but they don’t bother me as much as being called a hoe or gold digger. That’s the easiest thing to say because people want to make excuses for the Black man from point A to point B. Black men and Black women makes excuses for them and that starts with Black men’s moms. The Black man’s mom will defend him through right or wrong. You can do whatever. That’s the attitude we carry with the Black community. Because if a Black woman does something, she’s weak, she should have known better. They’re always so hard on Black women about being this strong being. But at the same time, we need guidance too. Black women are strong but we need to be guided, we need to be loved. In the Black community, we don’t get loved on. The Black men they trash us and we hold the Black man up here. When men cheat, when men have multiple…If I were to walk up to R. Kelly and tell him I have 12 boyfriends that I deal with, I wouldn’t even get the time of your day. It’s the double standard. And the Black community we need to do better. Black women aren’t protected at all. The Black man can do no wrong. It’s disheartening.
When I started going through all my trolls, I started asking myself why am I going back and forth with all these grandmas? Y’all have kids. It just was crazy to me. These are more of the women who should be like, ‘You’re okay. I understand. I get it. I’ve been there.’ Instead, it’s young women who are like, ‘Just keep going, sis. We’re young. We’re going to make mistakes.’ Sometimes you want that strong, older Black woman to make you feel like we got you.’
Even when I talk to Black reporters, I don’t ever feel like they’re on my side, especially ones in their mid-forties, you can tell the energy is very disconnected. You can tell when a reporter is connecting with you and when they just want your story. Overall, the Black community can do a lot better.
MN: You talked about seeking healing. So I want to know what does healing looks like for you and what will it look like in the future?
FR: Honestly, I been telling myself that I can do without therapy but I know I need to get back into therapy. Because I need to make sense out of what I feel. When you hold it in, it just turns you into a dark person. That’s what I’m being looked at as now. I don’t want to be viewed as this emotionally unstable, dark person. And I know that’s because I’m not healed. And I can’t radiate good energy when I don’t feel it inside of me. So, right now, I want to get back into therapy. And I want to set a life plan and actually go through with it. I feel like right now—when people are going through depression and stuff— it’s because they’re confused. And I feel confused. I don’t know what to do. There are some days, I want to be so vocal and so free and there are days when I’m angry and I want to hide. Right now, the number one thing is getting my mental health together. I can’t be strong for nobody if I can’t be strong for myself. And being strong is not holding it in or not saying anything or not crying. It’s really going through and trying to sort through it. I feel like I’ve just been going through the emotions the past year and this year is really making me deal with everything. I really just want to wake up and just feel good and proud of myself.