vivica-fox_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

The beautiful Vivica Fox brought her star power to the second annual Blackout event to promote HIV/AIDS awareness hosted recently at Club B.E.D. in South Beach.

“I have been in the fashion and film industry for years and have lost a lot of friends to HIV/AIDS. I still have friends who are HIV positive and have been surviving for years,” Fox said in an interview.

“We need to let people know that the disease is still alive because, for a long time, people thought that HIV and AIDS was a gay man’s disease. But new cases are reported every year about African-American women who are being infected by their partners—men who they think are in a heterosexual relationship with, who are living hidden lives.”

Karen “KD” Douglas of KD Music Management & Marketing, who organized Blackout, got Fox to attend through a mutual friend.

Around 200 people attended and all attendees were asked to wear all black as a means of paying homage to those who have lost their lives to the disease.

“The purpose of the event is to bring awareness of the AIDS epidemic that is affecting our communities,” Douglas said. “Although this is a worldwide issue, we must first start here by educating people through any means necessary and then work to expand our efforts abroad. Events like these provide an opportunity to gain the attention of those who may not necessarily feel comfortable addressing the issue in another manner.”

According to a U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, every 9 ½ minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV and although African Americans comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 50 percent of the estimated 1.1 million Americans living with the disease.

Florida has the third highest number of HIV/AIDS cases, after New York and California, and Miami-Dade and Broward counties, respectively, lead the state. 
Douglas created Blackout to honor a friend who died from the disease in 2008.

“I’ve always known the seriousness of the matter but it wasn't until I was directly affected by a very close friend of mine that passed that it really hit me because she was only 25 years old,” said Douglas. “Before her passing, we spoke a lot about getting out there and speaking to young people and our peers about HIV/AIDS precautions, facts and treatment. I always said I would help her with it and, since she is no longer here, I will remember her by holding this event annually. Not talking about HIV/AIDS isn't going to make it go away. One by one, we can all make a difference.”

Last year’s Blackout, attended by recording artist Monifah, brought out a crowd but Douglas was still not satisfied, feeling the purpose was somewhat overshadowed by the entertainment factor.

“I don’t think they really got the message [that] I was trying to relay,” she said.

This year’s Blackout used more “in your face” tactics such as the distribution of gift bags containing condoms, pamphlets and other “goodies” as well as projector slides that ran throughout the course of the night providing facts on HIV/AIDS.

Some of the proceeds were earmarked for Empower U Miami Inc., a minority, peer-based and managed organization founded by and for people living with HIV/AIDS,  8309 NW 22nd Ave. in Liberty City.

“I’ve passed by their building so many times and never knew about Empower U,” said Douglas. “My first time visiting their offices I was amazed with all of the services that they provide, such as housing, support groups, therapy, free testing and the list goes on. I'm glad that we were able to join forces and look forward to doing more in the future.”

Still, Douglas said, she  had difficulty securing a venue for the event, with clubs saying Blackout could keep patrons away, until BED Miami agreed to host the event.

“You'd be surprised at how many [clubs] would not really welcome such an event because they feel that many people would be turned off,” Douglas said. “I was shocked to find that when we arrived at the club this year it was already packed to capacity. In fact, the fire marshal had arrived and wouldn’t allow anyone else in until others exited. We hope to have the same amount of support, if not more, for next year’s event.”

Fox, this year’s headliner, spoke with attendees, took photographs with them and discussed her experience filming Cover, an independent film  directed by Bill Dukes on HIV/AIDS and social issues affecting the Black community.

Fox said she and Dukes became good friends after he produced a show that she was filming for the Lifetime network, so when he asked her to join the cast of Cover, loosely based on personal experience of one of Duke’s family members, she agreed, despite working with a limited budget.

“I am a huge fan of Bill Dukes. It wasn’t about the money; it was about the message and my respect for him,” said Fox. “Bill Dukes had a [relative] that had been living with a guy for twelve years, but in the eleventh year she got HIV and she found out [her partner] had been living on the ‘down-low’ for years.

“The movie was well accepted and educated a lot of people. It brought light to the notion that there are infected people that aren’t having safe sex and there were a lot of girls who walked out of the movie saying that their eyes have been opened.”