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Black Ball Helps Alicia Keys Bring AIDS Drugs to Kids

Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys, co-founder of Keep A Child Alive, helps with fundraising, hosts the Black Ball, engages her celebrity friends and has written letters to the president about HIV funding. Photographer: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Alicia Keys saw the impact of AIDS during her first trip to Africa in 2003 and co-founded Keep a Child Alive.

Tonight the nonprofit will celebrate its 10th anniversary at the annual Black Ball. The charity’s $5 million budget helps local clinics in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa and India with treatment programs, food assistance and orphan care.

The performers tonight at Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom will include Keys, singer-producer Pharrell Williams (“Blurred Lines”), Carole King, Kathleen Battle, British soul singer Laura Mvula and R&B-jazz fusion master Roy Ayers.

Last year, KCA tapped Peter Twyman, a graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health, to be the organization’s chief executive officer. Twyman previously served as a regional program director at Columbia University’s International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs.

He spoke to me about the nonprofit’s work at Bloomberg News world headquarters in New York.

Cole: How did you link up with the organization?

Twyman: It was a radical departure to go from Columbia to a celebrity-fronted charity. But the more I learned and talked to Alicia, I realized it’s an amazing organization first of all. It’s done amazing work on the ground, and what’s different about it from my previous job is that it’s working with community-based groups.

Grass-Roots Partners

Cole: How does Keep a Child Alive work?

Twyman: We fund grass-roots partners in South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and India. We identify the groups that are doing innovative work, and we help them expand.

Cole: What problems do these countries face in fighting HIV/AIDS?

Twyman: With U.S. funding for HIV work, the trend is to give aid to governments. The funding Columbia University used to get now goes to the Rwandan government, which is great. But what’s being left out is support for these local responses to the epidemic.

Cole: How badly have children been affected by the HIV epidemic in Africa?

Twyman: It’s particularly challenging with kids. Only 3 out of 10 who need treatment in middle-income countries are actually getting it.

It’s a horrible situation for kids who are infected para-natally. About 50 percent will die by age 2 if they don’t get treatment and 80 percent by the age of 5. It’s an astounding figure. A lot of people think that HIV has been taken care of, but for kids it’s a desperate situation.

Getting Lost

Cole: What are some of the obstacles you face?

Twyman: The young kids sort of get lost in this process. They’re not taking their drugs. This is a daily regimen for life. If you stop taking drugs, you can develop a resistance to drugs, and your options become fewer and fewer. We’re seeing kids get sick, we’re seeing kids die. We’re seeing kids kill themselves because they can’t see a future living with HIV.

Cole: How do you combat this?

Twyman: We’re training young people to be advocates and pure educators. Who better to counsel a teenager who has HIV than another teenager with HIV? We’re creating adolescent-friendly services.

Cole: What’s Alicia Keys’s role in all this?

Twyman: She’s our co-founder and global ambassador and she helps us in every way. She helps us with fundraising, she hosts the Black Ball, she engages her celebrity friends and she talks whenever she can about the issue. She’s written letters to the president about HIV funding.

Clive Davis

Cole: Who can we expect to see at this year’s Black Ball?

Twyman: Clive Davis usually buys a table. We’ll have the chairman of our board (David Wirtschafter), who is president of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. We’ll have Sony and RCA and other industries. Hearst usually comes, and we have Delta this year. So it’s a pretty high-powered and celebrity-filled room, and it’s fun.

Cole: Your budget is about $5 million. What could you do with more money?

Twyman: We have a commitment to these amazing clinics. We’d like to help them expand their work and help them meet their needs even more. We’d like to go to some of the countries where the response to the epidemic has been less effective so that we can help to provide leadership.

(The Keep A Child Alive Black Ball gala is tonight at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. For tickets and information: +1-718-965-1111 ext. 16 or

Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on technology, Lance Esplund on art.

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