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Pop star and philanthropist Alicia Keys has written a personal message for fans – “Don’t Forget Africa”.

The message, published in the December issue of Seventeen magazine, urges fans to support Keep A Child Alive, the charity Keys co-founded in 2002 to raise support and money for children affected by AIDS in Africa.

“Keep A Child Alive funds the testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda,” said the 26-year-old singer in her message. “One hundred percent of the donations go to clinics and orphanages in Africa and India. By visiting www.keepachildalive.org, and by starting a chapter in your high school or college, you can help save lives. You don’t want to grow up and say ‘How could millions of people be allowed to die from this illness when all the tools were there to prevent it?’”

HIV/AIDS has become a true pandemic on the African continent, and in the last 25 years it has left 28 million dead and 15 million orphaned. It has wiped out whole communities, it threatens economic infrastructure, and continues to ravage families. It is an issue close to the Grammy winner’s heart.

AIDS is 25,” she said in 2006. “As am I. And when I think that AIDS has been around my entire life, a mix of sadness, compassion and anger overcomes me. While the statistics on AIDS are staggering, especially in Africa, we cannot allow their magnitude to immobilize us into inactivity. Rather, we must harness our sadness and anger into action!”

Born as Alicia J. Augello-Cook in Harlem, New York, the singer got her nickname of Keys as a seven year old, when she showed a natural talent on the piano. But life in the Bronx was tough, and Keys describes herself as an “only child, a lonely child”, living in an area “cluttered with crime, dark alleys, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and X-rated movies”.

“My father just wasn’t there, and didn’t live close by,” said the singer. “And since my mother worked so hard, I was on my own a lot.”

She took solace in her piano and music, and in 2001, at the age of just 19, Alicia Keys released her debut album, “Songs In A Minor”. Five Grammy Awards (and over 12 million album sales) later, Keys returned with “The Diary of Alicia Keys” in 2003, “Unplugged” in 2005, and “As I Am” in 2007.

It has been a meteoric rise for the young singer, but unlike many in the industry who acquire such heady fame at such a young age, Keys has managed not just to keep both feet on the ground, but also to use her fame to help those less fortunate. She co-founded Keep A Child Alive after visiting countries such as Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa, and is also a spokesperson for Frum Tha Ground Up, a charity dedicated to inspiring and motivating American youths to achieve success on all levels.

“Keep striving for your dreams and your vision,” she said on the Frum Tha Ground Up website. Even when you feel that nobody else feels what you’re going through and all you see is negative, just keep on keeping on. There comes a point and time when you are no longer a victim of your circumstance, and you can’t blame your parents or anybody else for whatever’s going on in your life. It’s only you… you can be whatever you wanna be, you just have to believe it. Say this is who I am, and you will grow into the person you want to become."

Keys’ positive outlook on life has flowed like a river through her songs, and has been reflected in her appearances at the New Jersey Live Earth concert, the Philadelphia Live 8 concert, as well as several concerts to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. In December 2007, she also appeared at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Norway to honor Al Gore, alongside Kylie Minogue, Annie Lennox, Melissa Etheridge, and KT Tunstall.

But the AIDS pandemic in Africa is her greatest concern, and she has appeared at many events and concerts to raise awareness of the issue. She even recorded a duet of Peter Gabriel's “Don’t Give Up” with Bono for World AIDS Day 2006, with all proceeds going to Keep A Child Alive.

“We must come together – individuals, governments, corporations, philanthropists and artists – as one and fight for the rights of children and families suffering unnecessarily from this dreadful disease,” she told guests at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in 2006. "We must never give up until AIDS treatment and realistic prevention messages go hand in hand across the world; until we realize that keeping mothers alive is critical to the well being of the world’s children; and until we can stand together and say, “We did not sit idly by and watch an entire continent perish.”

As well as being a singer and philanthropist, Alicia Keys is a role model and actively pursues issues she feels moved about. She urges her fans to “be generous, be courageous, be cool, be volunteers, be heartfelt, be global, be respectful, be child friendly, be compassionate, and be human.”

She has faced adversity and come out with a desire to help others, using her own experiences to illustrate the importance of positive thinking.

“Life is adversity, something that is trying to get in your way or hold you down. Obstacles are gonna come every day. Don’t get it twisted, don’t think because you have your mother and father and a ‘traditional family’ that you won’t face adversity. It’s not just facing adversity, because we all do that, it’s how you overcome it that defines who you are.”

For more information on Alicia Keys, visit www.aliciakeys.net.

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