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By Jerome Stuart Nichols
World AIDS Day Detroit Concert with ‘American Idols’
7 p.m. Dec. 1 (Doors at 6 p.m.)
Detroit Opera House
1526 Broadway St., Detroit
After finishing in third place on “American Idol” in 2003, Kimberley Locke could have taken her newfound notoriety anywhere she desired. Of course she took it to the recording studio, but she didn’t stop there. She became an HIV/AIDS activist. Eleven years later, her direction and dedication are unchanged.
For World AIDS Day 2014, Locke is bringing her passion, awe-inspiring singing chops and a few fellow “Idol” alums to the Detroit Opera House at 7 p.m. Dec. 1.
It’s certainly not the first time she’s given back. Even before “Idol,” generosity was always a part of Locke’s life. She credits her mother for teaching her the importance of charity.
“My mom was always one of those people that, if somebody in the community needed something, they knew that they could call her and she would make it happen,” Locke remembers.
After “Idol,” though, Locke found herself with a new level of exposure and a platform that could potentially change lives. When youth HIV organization Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation invited her to perform at a carnival for children and families affected by HIV, she jumped at the chance.
“They’re kids,” she begins. “They don’t understand HIV, but they are judged because of it. Empowering them in a safe place where they feel like they can talk about it without having to hide or be afraid, that’s what’s most important.”
From there, her passion grew, and so did her involvement. She traveled with EGPAF to South Africa, and in 2010 was elected to the board of directors for youth outreach non-profit One Heartland. “One of the most exciting things at One Heartland was to see us have to change our mission statement,” she says proudly. “It started out purely focusing on mother-to-child HIV transmission – that’s preventable now. I think that’s nothing short of a miracle.”
Now, she’s putting her own entertainment company – I Am Entertainment – to work, producing charitable shows for worthy causes.
The first of those shows is the World AIDS Day Detroit concert, with performances from “American Idol” contestants including herself, Malaya Watson, Keri Lynn Roche, Ben Briley, Melinda Doolittle and Devin Velez. HIV activist Jeanne White-Ginder will also make a special appearance after speaking at another WADD event earlier in the day.
Often a person’s passion for a particular cause stems from a personal connection. Until Locke got involved with HIV/AIDS charity work, she actually had very little experience with the disease. Regardless, she still felt the need to lend her star power.
“People feel like if they don’t have a direct connection to it, then there’s nothing that they can do, but that’s not true,” she says. “People need to know that any of us could have a person in our lives who are affected by this virus.”
By using her celebrity to encourage a dialogue regarding the virus, she hopes to spur the conversations that will make a real difference.
“There are celebrities who can lend their name to a cause and make an impact, but the most important conversation, I believe, is on that interpersonal level – that we remind one another of the risk,” Locke says.
Locke hopes to proliferate that message to everyone, including, she says, heterosexual black women, like herself, who are one of the most at-risk groups.
“The reality is, in some shape, form or fashion we all engage in risky behavior,” she says. “Let’s be honest: Some people aren’t getting tested, and some people aren’t being as honest as they should be. You should be on high alert. No one is worth risking yourself for in that way. Wearing a condom is an extra step that will prevent you from changing your life forever.”
While she’s optimistic about what she’ll be able to do, Locke knows that just getting the conversation started will be tough.
“Because there’s been so much progress made, people are talking about it less. They’re like, ‘Oh, people are living,’ whereas 20 years ago people didn’t stand a chance. That’s why it’s so important to continue the conversation. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere.”