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Empowered: Alicia Keys hosts living with HIV/AIDS chat

Chelsea Jones | 2/3/2014, 7:23 a.m.
Alicia Keys hosts We Are Empowered, a conversation with women who are living with HIV/AIDS, Jan. 19. From left: Christina, Eva, Alicia, Kym, Jen and Stephanie. Photo screenshot from Greater Than AIDS video

The Dallas Examiner

Grammy Award-winning singer and actress, Alicia Keys, joined five women who are HIV positive to discuss women in the U.S. with HIV/AIDS in a half-hour conversation that aired on VH1.com on Jan. 19. Their mission was to break the silence and reduce the stigma surrounding the disease.

The event was titled We Are Empowered and was presented as part of a national campaign Keys helped launched last year with Greater Than AIDS to inform women in the U.S. about the disease. Started in 2009 by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Black AIDS Institute, Greater Than AIDS is a non-profit organization that works to reduce stigma, increase knowledge and promote actions that stop the spread of the disease in the country through media messages and community outreach.

Since 2001, Keys has done philanthropic work to help bring awareness to HIV/AIDS. In 2003, she cofounded Keep a Child Alive, which provides treatment and support to children and families affected by the disease in Africa and India.

In 2012, she attended the International AIDS conference in Washington, D.C. – a Kaiser Family Foundation sponsored event – and heard U.S. women share their stories about living with the disease. She was inspired to take action.

“There were these incredible women all in one room sharing their stories. They were living right here in America and were just like me, you know. I realized right there [that] there is a whole thing going on here in America that I need to turn my attention to as well,” Keys commented at the beginning of “We Are Empowered.”

Of the more than 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S., 1 in 4 is a woman, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women of color, particularly Black women, are at a higher risk, representing the majority of women living with the disease and women newly infected. If current trends persist, it is estimated that 1 in 32 Black women will contract HIV in her lifetime.

With Empowered, Keys’ aim is to highlight the specific ways women are empowered in light of HIV/AIDS including:

• Women are empowered to know the facts about HIV/AIDS, including the impact of HIV on women.

• Women are empowered to speak openly about HIV/AIDS with family, friends and others in their lives.

• Women are empowered to protect themselves and their loved ones.

• Women are empowered to ask to be tested and to know that doing so is not an act of shame.

• Women are empowered to live full and healthy lives and can help prevent the spread of the disease if they’re infected by staying on treatment.

The Women

The five HIV-positive women a part of the discussion were three Black women – Kym, Eva and Stephanie – and two White women – Jen and Cristina. All are from different parts of the U.S. Each shared her story about how she was infected.

Jen, a wife and mother in Portland, Ore., explained that she contracted the disease when she was 18 years old after a night of drinking with friends. She thought her only worry was to prevent pregnancy. However, a year later, she learned that she was HIV positive through a routine health exam.