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Cupcakes and Condoms Is Heading Your Way

HIV/AIDS, Must Attend

Last month, Red Pump announced that we are bringing Cupcakes and Condoms to ten cities this fall. The first stop will be in St. Louis on August 20th and will be hosted by yours truly!

For those unfamiliar with Cupcakes and Condoms, it is our sweet spin on an educational townhall. We create a safe space for women and teen girls to get information about HIV/STIs, hear from a panel of women’s health advocates, and ask plenty of questions. Oh, and yes, there are desserts.

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Why Are You #DoingIt? [Video]

HIV/AIDS

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Today is National HIV Testing Day. If you are unsure about your HIV status or if you are due for your next screening, there is no time like the present to get tested.

Getting tested for HIV on a regular basis continues to be a priority for me. I talk about in this video shot last year as a part of the CDC’s #DoingIt campaign.

To find a free HIV or STD testing location near you, visit GetTested.CDC.gov and enter your ZIP code.

I’m #DoingIt. Are you?

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Why HIV Testing Should be on Every Woman’s To-Do List

HIV/AIDS, KB's Journey

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in a campaign shoot for #DoingIt, the CDC’s latest campaign promoting HIV testing along with Rae Lewis-Thornton and Charreah Jackson (ESSENCE Magazine). In support of the campaign and National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I shared this post today on The Red Pump Project‘s blog.

If you are like me, then you know that life can be incredibly busy. From family to work and beyond, it seems like there are always more tasks than there is time. As a new mom who works full-time and helps lead The Red Pump Project‘s incredible mission, my life is hectic, fast, and overwhelming. With so many items that must get done and so few hours, it is VERY easy to push self-care to the bottom of my list. Taking care of my body and mind becomes a last priority. We are all guilty of it.

However, there’s no time like the present to change that for the better.

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day of education, empowerment, and action. We should also use this day to take a step back and think about our health and how we take care of ourselves. We only have one life. It is worth protecting and you must be the one to do so. The best defense is a good offense and HIV testing needs to be part of your strategy.

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HIV testing is free, fast, and confidential. And, almost everyone should be #DoingIt. In fact, the CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care and that people with certain risk factors get tested more often. If you aren’t 100% sure of your HIV status, then you need to add “get tested” to the top of your to-do list.

Write it down NOW. 

Always make time for HIV testing, girlfriends, and cake. In that order.

Always make time for HIV testing, girlfriends, and cake. In that order.

Getting tested is the first step to protecting your health. If your test reveals that you are living with HIV, it is important to get connected to a care team, which can include doctors, a case manager, peer supporters, and a specially-trained pharmacist. Available treatments are very effective; can prolong life; and may also reduce risk of transmission by reducing the amount of the virus in your body. If your test is negative, you can take action to continue to protect yourself and your status.

The great news is that new HIV diagnoses declined 40% among women from 2005 to 2014, with the greatest decline seen among African American women (42%). But, this doesn’t mean that our work is done. We must continue to talk about HIV with our loved ones and peers. If it is one thing that I have learned through my years leading Red Pump, it is to never underestimate the power of a conversation. Talking about HIV prevention, testing, and treatment is key to fighting stigma and ending this epidemic.

To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636); visit cdc.gov/DoingIt; or text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948).

Today’s to-do list: Know my status (check). Talk about the importance of HIV testing (check). #RocktheRedPump (check).

I know what I have to do today. Do you?

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Keeping Up with Bright Pink

Causes

There seems to be two types of people in this world: those who watch “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and those who don’t. I find myself in the former camp. I love watching KUWTK and have watched at least three episodes/day during maternity leave thanks to E!’s almost round-the-clock obsession with them. For all of the fun, glam, and drama offered up on the show, there are occasional moments when they discuss an issue of significance to someone outside of their family.

During last night’s episode, Kris convinces her girls to get tested for the BRCA1 gene, which can determine a person’s likelihood to develop breast and ovarian cancer. Given their family history of breast cancer, Kris believes that it is a wise thing for them to do from an early detection perspective. Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe follow suit, and they all learn that they are not carrying the gene.

While it turned out to be a happy ending for the “K Krew,” there are many women who find out the exact opposite. Do you remember when Angelina Jolie announced that she’d undergone a preventive double mastectomy? She made that decision after completing a similar test that revealed she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer.

Although I don’t have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, I have known about the BRCA1 gene and testing for many years thanks to the efforts of Bright Pink. Bright Pink is the only national non-profit organization focused on prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. It was founded by Lindsay Avner, who at the age of 23 became the youngest woman in the country to have a preventive double mastectomy after undergoing genetic testing to assess her risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

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Young KB supporting Bright Pink many, many moons ago…

Lindsay is one of my personal SHE-ros and the work that Bright Pink has done over the years has been phenomenal. Every year, the organization delivers educational presentations to women and health professionals across the country. I have had the opportunity to attend a few of these events and the information has been priceless. From breast self-exam tips to learning how to advocate for your health, I have learned so much!

Last night, I kept hoping that the Kardashian/Jenner clan might give a shout out to Bright Pink because duh… they are awesome. But, it didn’t happen. So, I’m giving that shoutout today. Check out the Bright Pink website to not only learn more about their work but to also find a breadth of resources, including a risk assessment tool.

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With These Red Shoes

Causes, KB's Journey

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Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and will mark the sixth year that I have rocked red pumps for the occasion.

With these red shoes, I have encouraged women to start important conversations about their health and making informed choices.

With these red shoes, I have welcomed hundreds of women to events designed to inspire and educate them about HIV.

With these red shoes, I have presented at national conferences about the role of online communities in mobilizing people around HIV.

With these red shoes, I will remind my sisters that one in five new HIV infections will be women.

With these red shoes, I will advocate for women of color who are disproportionately impacted by HIV.

With these red shoes, I will continue to educate myself on related issues that put women and girls at risk for HIV, including partner violence, lowered self-esteem, and mental health.

With these red shoes, I will stand alongside thousands of women across the country to #RocktheRedPump today, tomorrow, and moving forward.

Rock the Red Pump

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Multiple Sclerosis & HIV: An Unlikely Connection

Causes, KB's Journey

This week, I’ve been thinking about my mother a lot. Mainly, I’ve been thinking about how proud she would be to see how far I’ve come with my career, my personal life, and with Red Pump. We started Red Pump a year after she passed away and I can’t help but to wish that she was here today to gush over my photo in Essence or to reassure me when I’m too exhausted from juggling so many hats.

For me, my mother was the prototype for fabulous giving. As a teen, she volunteered with different groups and also taught a Sunday school class at her church. When she moved to Chicago, she continued her season of service and found groups to devote her time and attention. I’ll never forget how she would take us with her on Monday nights when she tutored foster children at the Harold Washington Library. Her commitment to that role landed her a Volunteer of the Year award from Volunteers of America. I still display that award proudly in my home as a reminder of how far doing good can take you.

Living with multiple sclerosis inserted many challenges in her (and our) day-to-day life. I’ve shared before about my experience as a youth caregiver but that is only part of the memories. For every challenge, there were plenty of happy moments. I just wish that her MS wouldn’t have gotten in the way of us creating so many more.

 

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This week is MS Awareness Week, a time where we are asked to take action to help others learn more about MS and what they can do to make a difference. One of the asks of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is that we spend this time “creating connections stronger than the ones that MS destroys.” For me, the connection that I have to health education and activism is far greater than anything that this disease could EVER destroy.

The fight against multiple sclerosis was the first cause that I’ve ever rallied behind. In high school, I volunteered at the annual MS Walk, did multiple presentations on MS, and racked up service hours after school in their office. I continued that commitment in college and in the years right after my graduation. At this point in my life, I don’t have as much time to physically devote to MS and it would seem that HIV has “stolen the show” so to speak. That’s not the case. I will never forget (or forgive) how multiple sclerosis has impacted my life, or the role that the disease played in my mother’s passing.

Without a life impacted by multiple sclerosis, I don’t know if I would be as passionate about causes or service. I don’t know if I would have the tools or desire to be an advocate. I don’t know if I would have ever started The Red Pump Project. So, as I recognize MS Awareness Week, I will make a donation to my local chapter of the MS Society, but I will also raise my voice louder for anyone who needs a champion. From MS to HIV, it is my sincere prayer that my efforts make an impact.

More importantly, I pray that I continue to make my do-gooder mother turned angel proud.

To learn more about multiple sclerosis, a debilitating neurological condition, check out this helpful section on the National MS Society’s webpage.

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Being My Sister’s Keeper

Causes

One in 32 Black women will be diagnosed in her lifetime.

 

That is a statistic that you hear once and have a hard time letting go of. Saturday was National Black HIV/Awareness Day (NBHAAD) and it inspired lots of conversations about the impact of HIV on the Black community and also discuss how we move forward in the fight against a disease that has impacted our community in such a devastating way.

A few years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly three in five Black people know someone living with HIV or who has passed away from AIDS. This is certainly my experience. Before starting The Red Pump Project, I knew someone living with HIV and I have met many others over the past six years – especially women of all ages.

On Saturday night at fundraiser dinner hosted by our Red Pump Atlanta team, spoken word artist Keisha Pooler performed an incredible piece focused on being our sister’s keeper. In the spirit of her performance and NBHAAD, here are three ways to help all of us fight this epidemic while supporting the women who we love.

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Oldie but goodie shot with Deedz (The Sassy Peach) || Photo: Chuckstr Photography

1. Leave the judgment at the door. I realize that this is easier said than done, but it is incredibly important. When we have open and honest dialogue about sexual health and behaviors, we create an environment that allows the women in our lives to ask questions and have deeper conversations about this important topic.

2. Get the facts about HIV – and share with your loved ones. There is so much wrong information floating around about HIV and other STIs. Having the right facts is a big step in the right direction. Start here for some facts about HIV and women.

3. Build up your sister’s self-esteem. Women are at higher risk for emotional and physical abuse and this can put many of us in situations that increase our risk of contracting HIV. Surround yourself with positive networks and look for opportunities to provide this support to other women in your community – especially to girls and young women.

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Have any other tips to share?

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When Instagram Makes You Cry

Causes

I have a lot of favorite Instagram accounts that I follow. However, over the past week or so, I have been glued to the Humans of New York IG account all thanks to one young man named Vidal. A week ago, he was featured on the HONY account and shared how his principal, Ms. Lopez, had influenced his life.

 

Upon reading his post, it was like the entire internet got a case of the feels. “Who is Ms. Lopez?” “I love this story!” “We need more educators like Ms. Lopez!” “What a brilliant young man!” You get the drift. Well, apparently the genius mind behind HONY thought the same thing because he sought out Ms. Lopez and interviewed her. The rest is history…

Brandon (HONY) partnered with Vidal’s school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy, to raise money to send each sixth grade class to Harvard and funds to help support summer programs for students. Within days, over $600,000 was donated via an online fundraiser. As of today, that number is over $1 million – all motivated by Vidal’s story and Ms. Lopez’ passion.

God works in mysterious ways…

A couple days back, I posted the portrait of a young man who described an influential principal in his life by the name of Ms. Lopez. Yesterday I was fortunate to meet Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy. “This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

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“…There are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

*insert more feelings*

If you haven’t been following this series on the Humans of New York page, then you have to check it out. Almost every post has made me teary-eyed, especially the teachers’ stories. Public school teachers often get a bad rap, but we also don’t acknowledge what they go through every day. These posts have opened my eyes to both the challenges and the beauty that accompanies the role of educator. Ms. Lopez and her staff have inspired me in ways that I can not express. In fact, sometimes all I can do is cry. With all of the craziness that our children face, it is a blessing for the scholars at Mont Hall Bridges Academy to have these adults on their side… and in their corner.

However, now their support system has grown exponentially and hundreds of thousands of people are rooting for their success. This is how you truly break the internet.

Brandon, thank you for your always incredible photos.

Ms. Lopez, thank you for inspiring your students and the world.

Vidal, thank you for reminding outsiders that kids from our communities can love school, be motivated by their educators, and, most importantly, make a difference.

 

To make a donation to this school, you can check out the fundraising page here.

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Views from Miami

HIV/AIDS, KB's Journey

Over the past two months, I’ve had the pleasure to travel to Miami twice for work. Escaping the Chicago winter for sun and sand is always a good idea however, my trips to Miami provided me with much more than bronzed skin. For over a year, I have been working on putting together a plan for my company to celebrate and connect with those over the age of 50 who are living with HIV. Why this age group? Well, half of people living with HIV will be over the age of 50 in 2015.

My trips to Miami were essentially the culmination of all of that work. In December, I met the lovely ladies behind the incredible Graying of AIDS oral histories project. I joined them as they spent two days photographing and interviewing Miami residents who made the decision to join our campaign and tell their stories. When I returned last weekend, I had a chance to view the exhibit that our entire team worked to bring to life. Against the most gorgeous blue sky, we unveiled the beautiful and powerful Well Beyond HIV photo installation on a beautiful terrace facing the ocean.

Well Beyond HIV Exhibit at Miami Beach EDITION

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For the participants, it was an incredible day. A day filled with triumph, celebration, and reflection for all those who have been living with HIV/AIDS for many years. For me, the day served as a reminder of my purpose and of what can happen when you follow your instinct.

I did a lot of reflection during both trips. I thought about how I could continue to influence my company, even as we undergo a significant transformation. I thought about how I strengthen my legacy with The Red Pump Project and our work around women and girls HIV/AIDS awareness. Most importantly, I just thought about balance. There is so much that I want to accomplish in this life, but I’m only one person. Balance is something that I struggle with (because Libra), so I always feel like my life needs to be recalibrated.

Photo Jan 18, 1 33 22 PMDuring last weekend’s trip, it was important for me to not only be focused on work, but to also take some time to smell the roses (or taste the mojito). What good is it to be the best and the brightest if you’re stressed and burned out? That’s not how I want my life to play out. I want my efforts to be significant, meaningful, and effective. I don’t need to be the star but I do plan to make big things happen.

I’m ready.

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P.S. This campaign launch was #5 on my January to-do list. CHECK!

Is a Birchbox Subscription Worth It?

Beauty & Style, HIV/AIDS

Subscription services are apparently the cat’s meow. From shoes to clothing and even dinner ingredients, you can pretty much get anything delivered on your doorstep every month. One of the first companies that I heard of doing this was Birchbox, a beauty-focused box. While intrigued, I never pulled the trigger.

Fast forward to last week.

While scrolling through my Instagram feed, I see that (RED) and Birchbox have teamed up for a limited edition December box in recognition of World AIDS Day. I don’t know if it was the packaging or the fact that I would be doing good, but I have been debating whether or not to sign up for Birchbox now. In full disclosure, I am not a product junkie and my monthly spoils might just end up in my linen closet.

If I subscribe by 11/30, then I can still receive this limited edition box and begin my own little beauty journey. That gives me less than two weeks to decide. So, I would love your opinion. Do you have a Birchbox subscription? Do you love it? Do you think that it is worth it? 

Help!

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Photo: Facebook