‘Surviving R. Kelly’: Michelle Kramer Shares How Daughter Is Adjusting After Breaking From R. Kelly

There’s no denying Lifetime’s six-part docuseries, Surviving R. Kelly, which detailed the singer’s alleged abuse of young Black women and girls, was a game changer. Millions of people not only tuned in to watch and discuss the harrowing stories shared in the series, but the project also reportedly prompted a criminal investigation into R. Kelly.

While fans continue to debate whether or not you can separate an artist from their art, many of Surviving R. Kelly’s viewers wondered what happened to those who were at the center of the singer’s alleged troubling universe.

Black Culture, Sexual Harassment, and #SurvivingRKelly--join ESSENCE editors for a conversation with Mouse Jones and Ayesha Faines on sexual misconduct and abuse within the Black community.

Posted by Essence on Friday, January 11, 2019

In the final two installments of the series, viewers saw Michelle Kramer convince her daughter, Dominique Gardner, to leave Kelly after being with him for nine years and living with him for four years. Kramer said in Surviving R. Kelly that Gardner, now 27, met Kelly in Chicago in 2009 when she was just 17 years old.

As viewers watched the Chicago mom’s chilling, but ultimately successful attempt to bring her daughter home after tracking her down to a Los Angeles hotel, Kramer told ESSENCE about how she felt in that very moment.

“You actually think that I was going to let the police…the hotel management and [Kelly] stop me from seeing my child? That wasn’t gonna happen. I was gonna make a scene,” Kramer said, referencing how viewers saw hotel management kick her out of the hotel after making contact with her daughter. “As a mother, it was just a mother’s instinct…I just knew I wasn’t leaving without mine.”

Kramer said that while she’d been in contact with her daughter throughout the years, by the time cameras caught their reunion onscreen in 2017, she hadn’t seen Gardner in over two years.

“She would call me and we would talk. She would tell me some things. She was a young girl in love. He [was] selling her a dream. Well, he sold her a nightmare and she was lost,” Kramer explained, noting that her daughter referred to him as her first love.

Courtesy of Michelle Kramer

Though she didn’t fully understand why Gardner stayed with Kelly, she continued to encourage her daughter to leave, calling the ordeal “so heartbreaking.”

Kramer told ESSENCE that she doesn’t like to think about what happened to her daughter while she was with Kelly because she’s unsure if she would be able to contain her rage if she knew the full extent of Gardner’s experience.

“It’s sick. It’s very disturbing and I don’t really like to talk about it,” Kramer admitted. “But like I tell people, I’m just 20 minutes away from this man. I got my daughter back, but that is not the end. This is just the beginning.”

In the series, viewers learned that after escaping with her mom in Los Angeles, Gardner returned to Kelly three days later to get closure. But after a week of being back with Kelly, Gardner left again. Gardner’s broken promise from Kelly to attend her younger brother’s graduation prompted her to finally break away for good. Kramer claims that when Gardner asked about “her brother’s graduation again, he said, ‘No, I’ll send a present.’”

Previously, Kelly had granted Gardner permission to attend the ceremony, but had apparently changed his mind. Kramer added, “She said she wasn’t gonna let her little brother down.”

ESSENCE reached out to Gardner, but she declined instead saying that her mother spoke for her.


One of those “stories” was a claim by several survivors featured in the documentary that they weren’t allowed to speak to other men aside from Kelly, especially in public. Kramer said it’s one of the habits her daughter has a hard time kicking.

“We went to the grocery store and I was like, ‘Dominique, go get two pounds of corned beef.’ She was like, ‘Mom, I can’t. There’s a man.’ I was thinking, ‘I don’t care about that man myself.’ But I had to think about it — she couldn’t talk to men,” Kramer said.

Though Kramer was unable to discuss whether or not she’s participating in any legal actions against the singer, Kramer said she’s focused on helping her daughter heal.

“We’re getting help. We have a lot of help. And then one thing [we have] is each other,” she added. “It took her a minute to adjust. She’s not all the way there.”

Please note: R. Kelly has repeatedly denied the sexual misconduct allegations with women and teenage girls levied against him over the years. His lawyer, Steve Greenberg, told the Associated Press last week that the accounts shared in Surviving R. Kelly were “another round of stories” that were created “to fill reality TV time.”

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