“To realize the end of AIDS for children and families, by combating the physical, social and economic impacts of HIV.”
For 12 years now, Alicia Keys’ and Leigh Blake’s Keep a Child Alive (KCA) organization has made that their mission and have been making remarkable strides in philanthropic work, research and support in order to make that a reality.
To assist with the efforts of fighting against HIV/AIDS, KCA hosts an annual Black Ball that helps to raise the funds necessary to provide treatment and care for children, youth and families affected in Africa and India. The Black Ball is also an event that celebrates the power and potential of Africa and the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS.
This year at their 12th Annual Black Ball, KCA successfully raised $3.8 million. The musical celebration was led by the theme, “Black to the Future” and emceed by actor and comedian Chris Rock. The Black Ball was filled with celebrities who came out in unison to support and it featured some enlightening performances by Alicia Keys, Wale, Lion Babe and Lenny Kravitz.
The Black Ball was also filled, however, with everyday people who have an equally fervent passion to help the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Recent Pennsylvania State University graduate and 2014-2015 Homecoming Queen, Kenya Crawford, 22, has been actively involved with KCA and helped with the Black Ball this year.
How long have you been involved with KCA and what initially prompted your involvement?
KC: My involvement with Keep a Child Alive began in 2011 [when I was] a junior in high school. I was granted the opportunity to travel to Malawi through a program called “Trek for Knowledge” in order to assist with the construction of a school in a rural village. While my time in Malawi was breath taking, I felt that there was still an enormous amount of work to be done. The beautiful people of Malawi were in need not just of education but of access to HIV treatment as well. As I learned more about the multitude of this disease, I knew I had to do something. Therefore, upon traveling back to the U.S., I sought universities with several service organizations. One of the many reasons I chose Penn State was discovering their dedication to serving others. During freshmen year [of college] I became heavily involved with KCA as secretary. After serving as the secretary for one semester, I took a leap of faith and ran for President. Although I was excited in this new role, I also worried about how I, a sophomore on campus, could make a difference. It is in those moments of doubt I channel the love and support my host family provided me while living in Malawi.
What were some of the things you did at Penn State to support KCA?
KC: While at Penn State, KCA chose to focus on three pillars: fundraising, education and community service. In order to achieve our fundraising goals, we’d host events such as the Valentine’s Day candy grams, bake sales and date auctions. To educate the community we’d host our Halloween “Sweet and Protected” where we’d give away candy with HIV statistics attached. We’d also collaborate with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. to host the Battle of the Sexes where we’d discuss the negative effects of gender roles on safer sex practices. In serving the community, general body members have sat on educational panels and traveled to South Africa to volunteer in HIV/AIDS programs. Our biggest event that encompasses all three pillars is the K-Ball. This is a mock Black Ball that includes performances by student artists, a keynote speaker relevant to the field and raffle prizes to raise money.
Even after graduation, you’re still involved. How’s that been for you?
KC: I am now pursing my masters in Psychological Counseling at Columbia University. The amazing thing about being in New York City is that our [KCA] headquarters is located just minutes from me. With the close proximity, I am able to lend a hand whenever they are in need.
What gives you that spark to help continue the fight against HIV/AIDS and support KCA’s cause?
KC: When I walked out of that village in Wimbe, Malawi for the last time, my host mother asked me to promise to never forget her. Through my tireless and continuous work with KCA I hope to make her proud.
How was the Black Ball this year and what was your role?
KC: Like every year, it has brought me to tears of happiness. It’s easy to feel defeated fighting against this disease, but to see the hundreds of people who care enough to donate thousands of dollars is heartwarming. Last year I attended the Black Ball as a representative for Penn State. This year I was able to check in with various guests to ensure their comfort during the evening. In addition, I helped during the pledge session where we’d walk over to tables and provide guests with a tablet in which they could electronically donate to Keep a Child Alive.
What is something you feel we all can do to help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
KC: It’s imperative to be educated on this epidemic. So many people, especially our generation, have been consumed by the ideology that “this cannot happen to me.” With 1.2 million people affected by HIV in the United States and 12% of those individuals being unaware of their positive status, the potential is there. I’d advise everyone to get tested frequently and communicate your status with your partners. You can save a life.
“When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?” – Nelson Mandela
Now signing off with the reminder: Don’t wait for the world to recognize your greatness, live it and let the world catch up to you.