Black Celebs Leading the Fight Against AIDS

The Root looks at some of the black community's biggest AIDS activists.

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    Danny Glover

    Actor Glover has a long history of activism, supporting causes from raising awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur to supporting union and farm workers. So it’s little wonder that the Lethal Weapon star is an outspoken supporter of HIV awareness and prevention. A member of the Black AIDS Institute’s board of directors and a goodwill ambassador for the United Nation’s UNICEF program, Glover, whose brother has AIDS, even wrote to Congress in 2000, applauding it and the UN for defining HIV/AIDS as a foreign policy and developmental issue.

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    Alicia Keys

    The singer began her campaign to save children living with HIV/AIDS in 2003 when she became the co-founder and global ambassador of Keep a Child Alive. Since its beginnings, the organization has helped thousands of children and families in Africa and India receive necessary antiretroviral drugs, as well as financial and medical support. Joined by U2 front man Bono, Keys highlights the ravaging effects of HIV/AIDS in South Africa in her documentary Keep a Child Alive With Alicia Keys.

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    MAC Viva Glam

    Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Lil' Kim, Eve

    Missy, Mary, Lil’ Kim and Eve are just four spokeswomen for MAC’s AIDS fund and Viva Glam campaign. Blige and Kim paired up for the campaign in 2003, while rappers Eve and Elliott served as the faces of the campaign later in the decade. Viva Glam, which launched in 1994, has garnered support from a bevy of celebrities and has raised a wealth of money for HIV/AIDS, with 100 percent of VIVA Glam product proceeds going to HIV/AIDS victims. Rumor has it that Nicki Minaj and Ricky Martin have been tapped for Viva Glam’s 2012 campaign.

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    Kelly Rowland

    In 2006, singer Rowland became a spokeswoman for shoe company Aldo’s “Aldo Fights AIDS” campaign, which raised money to support youths living with HIV/AIDS. Two years later, the former Destiny’s Child songstress became an official ambassador for MTV’s international HIV/AIDS initiative, Staying Alive, helping to promote the charity and raise HIV/AIDS awareness during trips to Kenya and Tanzania.

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    Nelson Mandela


    In 1994 Mandela was elected as the first president of postapartheid South Africa, which today has more people infected with the virus than any other country in the world. Mandela, whose oldest son died of AIDS in 2005, founded his global HIV/AIDS awareness campaign 46664 in 2002, holding a series of music concerts throughout the 2000s to raise awareness of the epidemic. Since its beginnings, 46664 has grown to encompass a range of Mandela’s humanitarian causes.

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    Laurence Fishburne

    The actor has been an active United Nations goodwill ambassador since 1996, focusing his efforts on UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. Fishburne visited areas hit hard by the epidemic during a 2004 goodwill mission to South Africa, where the actor met with young HIV/AIDS victims and their families and visited UNICEF projects across the country.

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    Magic Johnson

    Johnson became one of the HIV/AIDS epidemic’s first celebrity representatives when the NBA superstar shook the sports world and the black community by announcing his HIV-positive status in November 1991. In creating the Magic Johnson Foundation later that year, Johnson helped dismantle misconceptions of HIV/AIDS as a disease afflicting only gay men and intravenous-drug users. The foundation, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, was even nominated by former President Bill Clinton for the annual Conrad Hilton Foundation Humanitarian Award in 2011.

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    Blair Underwood

    Golden Globe-nominated actor Underwood served alongside actress Ashley Judd as YouthAIDS spokesperson in 2003. In September 2009, Underwood opened an HIV/AIDS clinic in Washington, D.C., with the support of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. In October, Underwood endorsed the AHF’s 2012 AIDS March on Washington.

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    Sheryl Lee Ralph

    Moesha star Ralph has hosted the annual performance Divas Simply Dancing! for more than 20 years as part of her HIV/AIDS awareness campaign, the DIVA Foundation. In addition to her foundation, Ralph sits on the Black AIDS Institute’s board of directors, alongside fellow actor and AIDS activist Danny Glover. Ralph recently opened up on the Huffington Post about her personal experiences with HIV/AIDS and her reasons for raising awareness about the epidemic.

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    The rapper and actor lent his rhymes and face to the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic by becoming the spokesperson for the mid-2000s Knowing Is Beautiful campaign, which promoted HIV/AIDS awareness and testing. In 1996 Common joined fellow rappers Wu-Tang Clan, Fat Joe and Biz Markie on the album America Is Dying Slowly to raise awareness about the growing rates of HIV among African-American men.

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    Hill Harper

    In 2007 CSI: NY celeb Harper received the Heroes in the Struggle award from the Black AIDS Institute for his work in raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Harper, who played a prisoner with AIDS in the 2000 film The Visit, wrote about the disease in the black community in his 2006 book Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny.

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    Whoopi Goldberg

    Comedian and co-host of The View Whoopi Goldberg has championed the fight against HIV/AIDS for almost a decade, lending her face to an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in the early 1990s. Goldberg also joined the ranks of UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassadors program in 2003, becoming a spokeswoman for the organization’s Unite Against AIDS campaign.

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    Regina King

    Actress King became one of the Black AIDS Institute’s official spokespeople in 2008 after kicking off the organization’s Test 1 Million campaign a year earlier by getting tested.

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    Rapper Ludacris was tapped as a YouthAIDS ambassador in 2006, working to promote World AIDS Day and the fight against HIV/AIDS across the country. In 2010 Ludacris worked on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s I Know campaign, which raised awareness about the spread of the epidemic in the African-American community.