Alicia Keys is instilling the importance of charity in her sons. The singer tells media that her foundation, Keep A Child Alive, is more than a nonprofit organization to her.
“My mother’s friend passed from AIDS,” shares Keys with PEOPLE.com. “I think I was 8 or 9 years old. I was old enough to know that he wasn’t there anymore and to ask for him. My mother, of course, couldn’t really explain to me what it meant.”
Alicia, however, learned of HIV/AIDS and its effect on families worldwide. “I befriended this really powerhouse, incredible woman named Leigh Blake, who has been an AIDS activist for over 30 years,” shares Keys of her first interaction with her charity’s co-founder. “Near the beginning of my career, she was getting Bono and a group of artists together to sing a remake of ‘What’s Going On’ that focused on the AIDS epidemic. I was brand new and they reached out to me, and I said of course.”
The singer continues, “Fast forward over a year later, MTV invited me to South Africa to do a program called Staying Alive, on which they talked about the AIDS issue. Leigh and I visited clinics where women were either pregnant or had just given birth to babies with HIV or AIDS. At the time, a lot of women didn’t realize that if you are positive and you breast feed your baby, your baby will contract it. The moms just wanted medicine to keep them alive. That was the first time as a 20 year old that I was aware of the injustice. I thought, “How can something be available, but you can’t have it because you’re poor?” I just felt like that was a death sentence. That’s what outraged me and motivated me.”
Alicia was so moved by what she saw that she, alongside Leigh Blake, decided to found the Keep A Child Alive foundation in 2003. The charity has since helped thousands of mothers and children receive the treatment needed to live with the HIV/AIDS virus.
In addition to being motivated by the things that she saw more than a decade ago in South Africa, Alicia Keys has used motherhood to fuel her passion for change. “I could never imagine if my kids were sick and I couldn’t get them medicine that could make them better. Or if I was sick and they had to watch their mother die because we couldn’t get access to something that exists,” explains the star. “That’s why it’s so important for us to press forward and talk about how important it is for people to have access to the ARV medicines that will keep them alive. Because it changes the community, the household – it changes everything. And it’s available, it’s possible.”
Alicia Keys has two children, Egypt and Genesis, with husband Swizz Beatz.