In this day and age, artists can no longer exist in isolation from society, looking down upon the rest of the world from their luxurious surroundings. Many come from the very world we reside in and, for us to collectively progress, it is necessary that they play their part. Alicia Keys, known more as an award-winning singer, songwriter and producer, understands that her accomplishment can never be meaningful unless it is coupled with a commitment to assist and effect positive change in this sometime harsh world. At the core of this understanding and commitment is Keep A Child Alive (KCA) which she founded in 2002 with Leigh Blake to provide “life-saving AIDS treatment, care and support services to children and families whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.”
At a recent press conference, attended by Alicia Keys and Leigh Blake and hosted by Glaceau Vitamin Water, Keep A Child Alive launched a new campaign, Africa vs. Aids, which will be running during the World Cup with billboards of selected football players dotted around the country. Taken by Rankin, the billboards show the players in iconic playing poses. The players include: Aaron Mokoena (SA/Portsmouth), John Pantsil (Ghana/Fulham), Salomon Kalou (Cote D’Ivoire/Chelsea), Jermain Defoe (England/Tottenham), Carlton Cole (Nigeria/England/West Ham), Djibril Cisse (France/Panathinaikos) and Benik Afobe (Arsenal Young Gunners/ England U18).
Vitamin Water (Coca Cola) made a donation of US$25,000 to kick off the press conference followed by words from Alicia Keys, who talked about how South Africa was the birthplace for her passion for Keep A Child Alive having been allowed to learn so much the last two times she was her.
South Africa is a “powerful place of resilience” and home to a great being who inspires so many, especially her, because she is “intrigued by leaders who have found their voice to lead people. We are all leaders and have the ability and capacity to create change.” Key to her message was that while President Jacob Zuma has actively stepped up South Africa’s fight against HIV / AIDS, there are still a number of other key issues to be tackled. She addressed these issues directly to President Zuma:
- The empowerment of women and girls is still critical. They have no say over their sexual lives and often have AIDS thrust upon them because they have no choice.
- Child abuse. What kind of desperation and depravity can make a man abuse a child who cannot even speak?
- Child-headed households. She continues to be moved by the story who all these children who find a way to support their families from a tender age. “Children should be protected and fed and clothed and loved and not have to live in tin shacks.” She asked that organisations be assisted without the red tape and bureaucracy that tends to draw most of the resources.
- International adoption. She asked that the doors be opened to international adoption for those who want to adopt the 2.7 million AIDS orphans in South Africa. The laws in South Africa are tough and, while it is important to have the necessary checks and balances, there are people out there who want to love these children. There are great orphanages but nothing can replace the love of a family.
The last element was addressed to the G8: “we know there has been a global economic crisis but do not cut aid to Africa now; Africa is going through a humanitarian crisis. If all the nations in the West came out as quickly to eradicate poverty as they did to help financial institutions, we would be so much better off. It is about political will and the will of the people. We must all make eradication of poverty our mission. It is unfair that so many of us have to live in extreme hardship just because of where we are born.”
During the Q&A, most of the questions centred around Alicia Keys’ music, relationship and pregnancy and it was interesting watching her deftly bringing it back to Keep A Child Alive. They support a range of organisations in different countries, usually identified through the global AIDS movement that they are part of. They focus on community-based organisations who know what the needs are on the ground, for example, Mama Carol who was already caring for about 1900 children.
In terms of the players who are part of the Africa vs. Aids campaign, they chose players who are compassionate and already humanitarian in their outlook. You cannot force people to help. Blake talked about the serious stigma that still exists in South Africa around HIV/AIDS. While the US started the same way, the availability of ARVS from 1996 and the gradual realisation that you can live for decades on ARVS, they were able to bring it under control. In South Africa the pandemic exploded because people do not talk about it. It still has much stigma attached to it.
Alicia Keys recognises the platform that music provides and its capacity to serve as a powerful vehicle to open doors and spread important messages, initiate conversations and draw attention to necessary causes. She recounted how, in conversation with Stevie Wonder, she discovered that he, Gladys Knight and other artists used to get together to talk about what was happening in their community and what they could do to change the negative. Through her work with Keep A Child Alive, she hopes to be the type of person who helps others see and know the leader inside them while continuing to contribute.