The projects of Hearne, Texas, may be a far cry from the bright lights of Hollywood, but Regina Kelly had made her house a home for her four daughters and was happy life was finally heading in the right direction—until her life turned upside down. Falsely accused in a drug raid after unfounded “tips,” Kelly was imprisoned on drug charges, fired, blacklisted and left with little hope. The new film “American Violet” is based on her story and her decision to fight a system that had victimized hundreds of thousands of Black faces. She shares with ESSENCE.com what kept her going in her darkest hour and how she is hoping to shine light for others.
ESSENCE.COM: Your story has captured people all over the world and now is on the big screen. What was life like for you before the drug raid that changed everything, and did you ever think it would happen to you?
KELLY: Never! Before the raid I had just gotten out of an abusive relationship for five years and gotten my self-esteem back. I had a great job and was taking care of my kids. I had gotten my GED and enrolled in junior college. I did all of this in October and the drug raid was in November. It took everything I had just started to get back. They did drug raids every year and I always felt like if you don’t hang around that crowd, it won’t happen to you. Of course we always knew it was racial because it was only African-Americans. When I got pulled into it and after never running with that crowd, I knew something had to give.
ESSENCE.COM: And it did. What are your thoughts on the film and what do you hope people take from it?
KELLY: I’m so happy they didn’t get a Hollywood big-name actress; that might have taken away from the film. I’ve seen the film many times and every time I see it, it’s like the first time. I still cry and that’s not even all of it. The whole ordeal interrupted my life in the worst way. People shouldn’t bet be naive like I was in the beginning and should get involved in the issues and the war on drugs. Minorities deal with it every day and it affects our community so much. Everyone needs to take a stand.
ESSENCE.COM: So what are your plans now for the future, and do you still live in Hearne?
KELLY: I just moved to Houston. I have been dealing with the mistreatment since 2000 and I was fine with it until it started tearing down my kids. Then it was time to get out of there. I was never able to work and still haven’t had a job. As a mother, how can you not provide for your children and you’re trying so hard. Now, I am continuing to fight injustice and I’m working on a book about the justice system. I won’t be satisfied until the District Attorney of Hearne,Texas, is out of office. That’s when I will feel it was all worth it. I always thought it was only us in our small town that this mistreatment was happening to. But I started speaking and going around and realized this is happening all over the world. There is much to be done.