Chicago’s Very Own: Karyn Watkins and Luvvie Ajayi

At a time when AIDS awareness has slipped under the radar, two young bloggers are putting the spotlight back on the disease.

Karyn Watkins and Luvvie Ajayi created The Red Pump Project, a non-profit that is helping the prevention of HIV and AIDS, and getting national attention.

Alicia Keys and comedian Kim Coles have been tweeting about the project, and tweets have gone out from other female celebrities as well. This started a chain reaction that even landed Luvvie on the on the red carpet at last year’s Oscars.

“Both of them together have created something that is so beautiful and so powerful and I could not be prouder of them and what they’ve done,” said friend and fellow blogger Patrice Yursik.

“They have made HIV and AIDS seem hip and cool, and the sector definitely needs that,” said Johnathon Briggs, Chief Officer for the Aids Foundation of Chicago.

From a conversation the two had in college, they learned that like most, they both knew someone affected by AIDS.  Karyn has a friend diagnosed with HIV and Luvvie has a friend with 20 cousins orphaned by AIDS in her native Africa, a continent where each day 6,000 people die from AIDS. 11,000 more are infected every 24 hours. Statistically, women are infected more often than men.

“I mentioned that I wanted to do something around HIV and AIDS and red shoes, and she said girl AIDS day is coming up, we should do something with our blogger friends because we were both bloggers,” said Ajayi.

“So we took Luvvie’s idea that of doing something that was connected with red shoes and we brought it into the social media space,” said Watkins.

Those red shoes, pumps specifically, are in nearly every woman’s closet. They are often times the catalyst that gets AIDS conversation going women.

“It combines the things we might be interested in superficially, in terms of shoes, in terms of fashion, in terms of socializing and they bring the education which is something that we all need,” said Yursik.

“We think red shoes are fierce. One they’re great power shoes, and women just feel more comfortable when you put on a pair of red shoes. So we wanted to use this as a conversation starter. So while we have your attention, and you’re wearing red shoes, we’ll talk about HIV and AIDS,” said Ajayi.

For the last five years, the Red Pump Project’s baby has been their fashion show gala, held on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day March 10.

“It’s really rewarding.  I think one of the best things about it is that you get so many women, and not just women, but guys and just people in general and they come up to you and they say things ranging from I’m doing this for my mom, or I’m doing this for the girls that I work with. I wanted to engage them in a fun way around this topic,” said Watkins.

The Red Pump Project’s presence in the social media market has stepped up AIDS activism and taken awareness to a whole new level.

“They are part of the vanguard of a new generation of young women who are raising the profile on this epidemic. Each generation needs to have a vanguard. They need to have those people to keep the conversation going. And they remind people that HIV is not going away. Not only is it not going away, but it’s relevant to you and there’s something you can do about it,” said Briggs.

Luvvie and Karyn are hoping The Red Pump Project will continue to trend, and one day lead the way to more testing, treating and eventually curing AIDS.

“We meet so many people who say we want to do this, how can we help and what can we do to get involved. So this little match has sparked something in people. And we’re happy to share that passion with so many other people who feel as strongly about AIDS and the prevention of the disease was we do,” Watkins said.

Karyn Watkins and Luvvie Ajayi and their Red Pump Project are Chicago’s Very Own.

For more information on The Red Pump Project, go to www.redpump.org.

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