{ Celebrity + Humanitarian = Celebritarian }

The Celebritarian of the Month is: ALICIA KEYS.

Nelson Mandela Card

Several years ago, award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and philanthropist Alicia Keys traveled to Africa…and while she was there she met an angel.

The angel is a single mother of five living in Soweto, who had worked in the hotel business most of her life. In 1998 the hotel she was employed at closed and this angel…well she started studying to become a nurse because she loves to help people. At the same time, she continued her community work which led to a difficult decision; become a nurse – which was extremely important, or become a full time community worker – also very important but a position that came with no salary.

The angel did what angels do; she gave up her salary and immersed herself in the role of mother, advisor and guiding light to over 1000 child-headed households in her village. The Angel provided food, school fees, school uniforms, social welfare and anything else these orphaned children needed.

The Angel’s name is “Mum Carol: The Angel of Soweto,” and you can meet her right here:

Before Keys met Mum Carol, she partnered with highly respected philanthropist and music industry executive Leigh Blake, to plan and execute her foray into the battle of eradicating HIV/AIDS. Their one-on-one meetings, group conversations and sponsor outreach efforts gave birth to the “Keep A Child Alive Foundation,” which has grown to become a shining example of how celebrities can use their global platform to educate the masses and bring forth change.

When Keys took a camera crew to Africa to document the lives of those touched by HIV/AIDS, she learned first hand how much poverty played a part in keeping so many human beings from receiving what they needed, to not just live but thrive.

In one village, she sat in front of a one-room house that sheltered a grandmother and her eight grandchildren. The traditional mud-hut and wooden structure with thatch roof reflected the shadows of tree branches and leaves blowing in the wind, and the brilliant light of the African sun.

Through a translator, the grandmother explained that her own four children died of the disease and she was now the only one left to care for their eight children. When she could find work, or dig graves to earn a living, she had the means to provide for them. Other times she would have to borrow from a neighbor, who undoubtedly like her does not have much to share. The children surrounding her possessed a spiritual beauty in their eyes that projected fear but also joy that someone was still here on earth to love them. One of her grandsons leaned on her shoulder and without looking into her eyes, gently raised his head just enough to feel her presence next to him. Even though he wore the only clothes he possessed on his back and had lost his parents, his grandmothers devotion to him and her loving touch, provided this child with one of the most crucial elements a human being needs to survive; the acknowledgement of their existence by another person.

As Alicia continued to speak with the other grandmothers, embrace the children and learn directly from them what they felt they needed to survive she shared, “If we are not crying for them, who is going to cry for them? And if we are not speaking for them, who is going to speak for them?”


While visiting another village in Soweto, the songstress sat outdoors – surrounded by a group of teenagers. She asked them share something about themselves and when they did, they revealed an even deeper view of what life is like when an at risk child grows up, and is better able to articulate the pain of living in the wake of such a terrible disease; something that the pre-teen grandchildren in the previous village she visited were too young to do.

Out of this group of teen siblings, the first one to share was the oldest; a beautiful young woman who under better circumstances could be a model. “I live with my siblings and there are eight of us. Our parents died when I was twelve and we’ve pretty much had to take care of ourselves ever since. Each day you wake up and think ‘Ok I’m alive for today…what’s next for the next 24-hours?”

One after the other, their testimonies continued:

“The worst day of the year is Christmas. I remember once we had a blackout on Christmas…there was no electricity or food…nothing. We slept on Christmas and New Year’s Eve because we had nothing to do, but the one thing that kept me going is I’ve always been positive.”

“You can’t stick around your misery for too long. You have to go on. The more you cry, the more you feel pain for yourself…the more you feel useless and you don’t do anything. As the oldest guy I have to stand up and stay strong for my other siblings.”

“What inspires me is every woman in the world who has had difficulties and found it in herself to persevere and stand up to it. Women like Mum Carol, women like Oprah, women like me – who found it in themselves to be the rock.”

“My plan for being happy is knowing that someone else has a meal to eat, before they go to sleep.”

Alicia In Africa, Journey to the Motherland Documentary

With each visit, Keys immersed herself into the culture; allowing her to not just hear – but feel – their cries for help. One of the ways she swiftly responded to their call to action was the creation of “The Black Ball,” an annual charity fundraiser that brings together celebrity donors, medical experts and humanitarians who like her, want to use their powerful names and resources to eradicate the disease.

Through her non-profit organization “Keep a Child Alive,” The Black Ball has raised over 25 million since 2004 and the proceeds have brought life-saving medications, food and support to children and families in Zimbabwe, Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Ethiopia and India.

This literally means that children who normally go without food and water for days (or longer) began to receive nutritious meals, shelter and social services. It also means that people living in these poor countries that have HIV/AIDS could finally receive life saving ARV therapy (medication to manage the disease) regardless of the fact that they could not afford it. Sick people who could no longer care for themselves once again thrived after treatment, and rejoined their families to live a healthier and happier life.

KCA (a 501(c) 3 non-profit) has also earned the highest four-star rating from Charity Navigator the last six years in a row.

For the fundraiser on November 5, 2015, held at New York City’s historic Hammerstein Ballroom, Keys received the support of several corporate sponsors who are just as humanitarian-focused as she is; including, The Jynwel Foundation which supports problem-solving initiatives in education, health care and conservation. Some of the attendees and performers from past – to the most recent gala – have included Adele, Halle Berry, Christy Turlington, Bono, Oprah Winfrey, Iman, Mary J. Blige, Priyanka Chopra, Usher, Norah Jones, David Byrne, Liya Kebede, Carmelo Anthony, Zendaya, Naomie Harris, Hannah Bronfman, Lisa Falcone, Angela Simmons, Russell Simmons, will.i.am, Kerry Washington, Madonna, Elijah Wood, Aretha Franklin, Justin Timberlake, Sade, Kathleen Battle, Janelle Monae, Midival Punditz, Karsh Kale, Lenny Kravitz, Jay Z and Beyoncé.

Along with ticket sales to the event, Keys raises money for the foundation through her live and online auctions of rare memorabilia and exclusive merchandise, which is donated to The Black Ball each year. For the recent event, the online auction included the chance to be a Ballkid for the New York Knicks and a makeover with Beyoncé’s stylist Ty Hunter.

CK Swett, the debonair California native who is a rising star in the world of auctioneering, led the live auction. His stylish wardrobe and skillful play on words is as mesmerizing to look at and listen to, as the megastars performing at many of these same charitable events. That night, Swett (a licensed art auctioneer at Phillips de Pury & Company) helped Keys raise more than $3 million to continue her humanitarian work. Not only did he volunteer his services for KCA’s fundraiser, he has also donated his time to more than 70 charitable foundations over the past two years, raising millions of dollars for them in the process.

No one person can do this level of global-reaching humanitarian work alone. It takes a lot of behind-the-scenes conversations, emails, donation request letters, phone calls, follow up phone calls and when necessary some good old-fashioned begging to acquire what is needed for lasting change. Yet every year, Alicia Keys finds a way to gather her supporters and make a difference in the lives of others. In doing so, this former child prodigy who learned to play Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart at seven-years-old, and graduated valedictorian at 16-years-old from high school, continues to prove that the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” can extend beyond the boarders of Soweto and all the way to New York City.


5 ways you can help Alicia Keys help others:

Visit KCA’s new online store to help raise money for their programs: here

Gather your family and friends to plan an exciting KCA glamorous, casual or themed event: here

Help get medication and nutritional meals to those who need it by donating as little as $30: here

Sign up for KCA’s newsletters to find out when the next event will be: here